“Will make land rights an election issue”

Ten thousand landless and homeless people plan to gather at Ram Lila Maidan next month in a bid to persuade the government that the “right to shelter” needs concrete legal backing.

If they are ignored, they warn that they will let their votes do the talking.

“We are calling for an agitation in Delhi and a march to Parliament on April 11 to show that this is an election issue,” said P.V. Rajagopal, founder of Ekta Parishad. Last year, he led about 60,000 landless poor, Adivasis and Dalits in a padayatra from Gwalior towards Delhi, resulting in a deal with the government to implement land reform, including the legislation of a “right to homestead” bill. This year, with the bill in the draft stages, he is raising the stakes. “It is not just about statements in election manifestos… Our message is that land rights will be a deciding factor for the victory or defeat of any party.”

After legislating the right to information, education, work (through NREGA) and now attempting to ensure the right to food security, the government is drafting a bill aimed at legally upholding the right to a home of your own.

As The Hindu reported last month, the draft bill aims to ensure that “Every shelterless poor family has a right to hold homestead of not less than 10 cents… within a period of 10 years commencing from the date of notification.” One-third of the country’s households are now landless.

However, the progress of the right to homestead bill – still being finalised by the task force on land reform that includes representatives from both government and civil society – could be stymied by the Rural Development Ministry’s current struggle to shepherd its land acquisition bill through Parliament. That legislation — which the UPA government hopes will cement its farmer-friendly credentials by the next elections in 2014 — will replace an outdated, British-era Act and will introduce the concepts of mandatory rehabilitation and resettlement of those displaced by government acquisitions of land.

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