Five million acres pledged over the last 60 years, but only 50 per cent has actually been distributed

In April 1951, Gandhian Vinoba Bhave launched the Bhoodan – or land gift -- movement when he convinced a village zamindar in what later became Andhra Pradesh to donate land for agitating landless Dalit villagers in an area of armed Communist activity.

Over six decades later, the land collected as part of the Bhoodan movement is at the centre of a “scam without parallel.” Meanwhile, the government hopes that another model pioneered in Andhra Pradesh — this time, to provide legal help to tribals fighting land cases — will help neutralise the ideology of armed Naxals.

“Five million acres has been pledged as part of the Bhoodan movement over the last 60 years but only 50 per cent has actually been distributed…This is a land scam beyond everything, without any parallel,” Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh said on Thursday, speaking on the sidelines of a gathering of State Revenue Ministers to discuss modernisation of land records.

“Where is this Bhoodan land? Who is currently using it? Is the land actually productive? We need a Centrally-sponsored scheme to survey these lands on the ground,” said Mr. Ramesh, acknowledging recent cases showing that in many States, these lands are not being given to the intended beneficiaries — landless poor, Adivasis and Dalits — while in other cases, only unproductive land has been given to them.

“The land reserved for the marginalised must be given to them…Instead, tracts of land have been grabbed by the wealthy, politicians and industrialists,” said P. V. Rajagopal, founder of the civil society movement Ekta Parishad, who spoke at the conference. “We need a national database to check this.”

Andhra Pradesh, birthplace of the Bhoodan movement, is now pioneering another land reform initiative. “An army of paralegals has been formed to help tribals whose land has been forcibly taken by non-tribals,” said the State’s Revenue Minister, N. Raghuveera Reddy. He urged that fast track revenue courts be set up to speed up resolution of such disputes.

Mr. Ramesh recounted how his meeting with a Gond woman, fighting court cases for her land in Andhra Pradesh’s Adilabad district for over three decades, sparked his interest in providing legal help to tribals fighting for land rights. He promised the gathering that he would take up the demand of the Naxal affected States, including Jharkhand, Orissa and Chhattisgarh, for paralegal units and fast track revenue courts, with the Law Ministry.

“The alienation of tribal lands is at the very heart of Naxal ideology,” he said. “If we provide justice to tribals in land disputes, I think, we can effectively deal with the Naxal menace.”

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