By Kishor Kumar Kalita
For the last couple of years, the peasant community of Assam has been relentlessly demanding the State government to implement decade old land policies proclaimed officially from time to time. These demands are being carried forward by different peasant organizations affiliated with Left parties and also under the banner of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS). However, the State government's apathy towards the needs of the peasants' community and apparent inclition to lease out huge portions of government land to industrial as well as corporate houses, speak volumes of a representative government's reluctance to honour its earlier commitments.
Post-Independence policies: If someone studies carefully the age-old policies of the State, it would give an opportunity to understand the ongoing paradoxical stand of each successive government in Assam, which committed a lot in their declared official land policies and simultaneously negated the importance of the previous ones. Let us examine a few government land policies of Assam that again will give a little glimpse of the stated hypothesis. The Land Policy adopted by the Assam Government in 1958 categorically admitted the changing circumstances in the post -independent Assam and accepted the broad principles on land reforms and agrarian reorganization as proposed by the planning commission of India. Having considered the crisis faced by the farmers of the state and principle laid down by the Planning Commission, the Assam government laid down a comprehensive land policy. The policy of 1958 incorporated some of the historic reform measures among which the implementation of declared land and agrarian reforms and conversion of annual patta to periodic patta could be considered as a step of historical significance. The said two provisions were enumerated as follows-
(i) The implementation of the Acts already in existence in respect of land reforms and agrarian reforms shall be taken up immediately; and steps shall be taken to pass legislations in respect of other reform measures.
(ii) The annual patta lands confer no right of transfer or of inheritance beyond the year of issue or of sub-letting. Consequently, there is no security of tenure. And the lands being non-transferable, the owners cannot procure any loan against the securities of these annual lands. The pattas are generally renewed annually on the basis of actual possession. This gives scope for un-authorized occupation. The pattas being liable to cancellation on service of non-renewal notice, there is no security of tenure.
The government of Assam also formulated in the policy the idea of giving land settlement to individuals which was limited from 8 bighas to 12 bighas according to the fertility of the soil and stipulated the following preferential order for giving land settlement;
a) The settlement-holders who have been rendered landless due to flood, river erosion or earthquake and whose lands were requisitioned or acquisitioned by Government for public purposes.
b) The landless cultivators and displaced persons.
c) Settlement-holders who have been rendered landless by river erosion and who occupy reserves with the permission of the Deputy Commissioner. Such occupants shall not be removed until altertive land can be provided.
The Land Settlement Policy of 1968 categorically mentioned about the non-implementation of previous land policy and identified certain factors responsible for rapid growth of land less person in the State. The admitted fact of the then government was based on the sixteenth round of tiol sample survey conducted in the State in 1960-61 which revealed about the existence of 15 per cent of rural families having no agricultural holdings. Considering the prevailing high pressure on agriculture land, the government land settlement policy envisaged certain measures which included --- land settlement only with the actual cultivator up to the limit of 10 bighas per family; encouraging formation of Co-operative Farming Societies; constitution of village level committee for protecting Village Grazing Reserve (VGR) and Professiol Grazing Reserve (PGR); expeditious and firm administrative measures for effective eviction of all encroachers in forest, grazing and other reserves; preventive measures to prohibit alietion of agricultural land from cultivators to non-cultivators and also prohibition of sub-cultivator letting, and most attention was given to conversion of annual land into periodic by adopting a simple procedure of premium deposition.
(To be continued)