Authorities must acquire all land owned in excess of the ceiling of 15 acres, says party

The dawn of New Year has brought into focus the politics of land, with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) launching a State-wide agitation on behalf of the landless while lining up lakhs of party volunteers willing to court arrest during the course of what the party foresees to be a long drawn out stir.

The issue is likely to have strong resonance in the district, where land is hot property in terms of price and availability.

While the district administration claims that land is scarce, CPI (M) argues that it is one of the most land-abundant districts if authorities are willing to acquire all the land owned in excess of the ceiling of 15 acres prescribed by the Land Reforms Act.

The district administration has received close to 30,000 applications under the State government’s zero landless project, aimed at ensuring that all its citizens possess at least three cents each. While in the case of 10,000 applicants only the title deeds need to be transferred to their names, fresh plots will have to be identified for distribution among the remaining applicants. So far, the district administration has been able to identify only 75 acres out of about 700 acres needed to accommodate all the beneficiaries. That’s barely enough to meet the needs of 2,500 applicants.

“One option is the utilisation of vast tracts of unused land in the possession of Public Sector Units. Else the government should consider acquiring land at lower prices,” District Collector P.I. Sheikh Pareed told The Hindu. He said that procuring abandoned Pokkali paddy fields from private parties is another alternative but then filling it up is a violation of the Coastal Regulation Zone provisions to overcome which the government should grant special exemptions.

M.V. Govindan, district secretary of CPI (M), said that the government should take over the land amassed by the land mafia in the name of benamis in violation of the Kerala Land Reforms Act.

Asked whether the party is trying to extract political mileage by taking up the cause of the landless, Mr. Govindan retaliated that every struggle has its politics. “If the demand that the poor be given land has politics, then yes it is politics and we don’t hide it,” he said.

C.R. Neelakantan, a social activist at the forefront of the struggle for the rehabilitation of people displaced by development projects, said that while protests by any party for land is welcome, their track record matters in inspiring trust. “The party had been in power for five years till hardly two years ago but never bothered to give an inch of excess land to the landless. It did not support the adivasi struggle for land at Chengara and adopted a negative approach towards people displaced by development projects,” he said.

Hibi Eden, a Congress MLA, said CPI(M)’s agitation is one for political mileage. “Practical solutions should be found to address this problem. The Centrally-sponsored Rajiv Awas Yojana is a welcome initiative. The State government should consider novel measures like building multiple accommodations on limited area instead of giving land piecemeal. The prospect of taking back land from PSUs if not utilised for the designated purpose within a timeframe should also be considered,” he said.

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