An initiative to save the State's community land
Rajasthan has pioneered an initiative to save its community land by preparing a draft policy. The State is the first to bring out a “Common Land Policy” on the lines of the National Policy for Common Property Resource Lands (Common Lands), 2002.
The draft “Rajasthan Common Land Policy, 2010” was launched here by Rajasthan Panchayati Raj Minister Bharat Singh in the presence of eminent economist and Vice-Chancellor of Gujarat Vidyapeeth Sudarshan Iyengar, experts, activists and representatives from panchayati raj organizations. The event coincided with a workshop on “The Commons” jointly organized by the Department of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj and Foundation for Ecological Security (FES).
Mr. Bharat Singh said the State Government was serious about preserving and protecting the community lands also known by various other names such as “Sawai Chak”, “Gair mumkin zameen”, “Oran” and “bani”. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot had mentioned the protection of the community land in the State's annual budget, he noted.
The State Government has already issued a series of orders to facilitate the process of demarcation of the lands within the purview of the Gram Panchayats under common use such as grazing lands, common ponds and their catchment areas and playgrounds. The Government has also issued orders facilitating the utilization of MGNREGS funds for improving the productivity of common lands.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Department of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj and FES was signed on the occasion in the presence of Jagdeesh Rao, CEO, FES, on restoration and governance of natural resources in general and common lands and dependent rural livelihoods across Rajasthan in particular.
An open discussion in which government officials, District Collectors, Divisional Commissioners, CEOs of Zila Parishads, people's representatives from various governance levels such as Zila Pramukhs joined in, suggested that encroachers should be dealt with strictly. The Minister said he was even willing to consider a legislation which would bar people who have encroached upon common land from contesting the panchayat polls.
There was also consensus on making use of the job guarantee scheme, MGNREGS, for protecting the commons by constructing boundary walls and carrying out tree and grass plantation.
Both in his speech and later during the interaction with media, Mr. Singh did not hide his impression that the local political leadership was responsible for the encroachments which had taken place on the common lands. He expressed concern at the loss of common spaces and sought the cooperation of the elected representatives to check this. If needed fresh laws could be made to ensure the protection of the commons so vital for the rural communities, he said.
Prof. Iyengar spoke on the Gandhian emphasis towards collective action. The commons had a major role in preserving the fertility of the soil, he noted. For the sustenance of both agriculture and the agrarian lifestyle it was important that the common lands survived, he stated.
Prof. Rathore, who was a member of the policy drafting team, explained the significance of the policy and sought involvement of the people's representatives in checking the loopholes, if any. Supreme Court lawyer and environment activist Ritwick Datta presented an analysis of the landmark Supreme Court judgment against encroachment of common land.