Draft Bill to be discussed on Tuesday

After legislating the Right to Information and Education — and making a stab at the Right to Work and Food through the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the Food Security Act respectively — the government’s next step seems to be aimed at legally upholding the right to a home of your own.

On Tuesday, a task force set up by the Rural Development Ministry — including government officials and civil society members — is expected to finalise a draft of the National Right to Homestead Bill 2013.

The 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,” according to the draft to be discussed by the task force on Tuesday, a copy of which is available with The Hindu.

According to the National Land Reforms Policy draft — which may also be finalised at the meeting — more than 31 per cent of households in the country are landless. Almost 30 per cent own less than 0.4 hectares, meaning 60 per cent of the population owns only five per cent of the country’s land.

Jan Satyagraha impact

The Jan Satyagraha movement, spearheaded by the Ekta Parishad last year, brought thousand of landless people together to protest this state of affairs. Their march to Delhi ended in Agra when Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh agreed to a charter of demands, with the Right to Homestead and a National Land Reforms Policy heading the list.

The task force, headed by Mr. Ramesh, has held three meetings so far to try and fulfil that agreement. The draft Bill calls for State governments to notify an implementation plan within one year to identify beneficiaries, make an inventory of available lands and acquire more, and develop and allot plots. It mandates that the Central government will bear 75 per cent of the cost — through a National Homestead Guarantee Fund.

Eligibility criteria uncertain

The draft seems uncertain about the specific eligibility criteria for beneficiaries. The Bill is aimed at poor families in rural areas only. Government employees, landowners, income tax payers are all exempt. Other criteria, including a maximum income level, have not yet been finalised. The title to the homestead will be given in the name of the adult woman member of the household.