Failure to give Khas lands to poor irks rights workers

Rights activists at a roundtable discussion here on Saturday accused the ruling Awami League of reneging on its election pledge to ensure poor people’s right to Khas lands.The AL election manifesto, ‘A Charter of Change’, in its section 7.4 made the pledge to ‘ensure increased production and social justice in the distribution of land and water bodies’, but the accessibility of landless to the state’s Khas lands has not improved due to longstanding anomalies in the land distribution process, they added.
The roundtable, titled ‘Accessibility of Poor and Extreme Poor People to Khasland: Existing Constraints and Way-Forward’, was organised by Care Bangladesh at a city hotel.
As of March 2013, the current government has managed to settle 62,201 acres of Khas land to 1,27,047 landless families that accounts for only 1.8 percent of the country’s 33 lakh acres of Khas land officially recorded.
The speakers also observed that most of the Khas lands are not even accounted in the official records due to the absence of frequent Diara surveys of the newly escalated lands in the river system.
Executive director of Association for Land Reform and Development (ALRD) Shamsul Huda said: “Due to lack of distribution, Khas lands in the country have turned out to be something that exists only in the papers. Neither the government nor the landless have control over most of the Khas lands.”
Besides, the Diara survey aimed at recording newly-escalated Khas lands are seldom conducted by the officials, leading to an undercounting of the lands, he said, adding that the real size of Khas lands in the country might be three times higher than the official record of about 33 lakh hectares.
“Although in its 2008 election manifesto pledged for improving the land distribution in a bid to foster rural development and social justice, we see the issue has not been among the list of the government’s top priorities,” said Shamsul.
Studies by non-government organisations (NGOs) reveal that 60-70 percent of the Khas lands are being used illegally by influential people with the support of corrupt land officials, he added.
In his keynote presentation, Research and Development Collective (RDC) chairperson Prof Mesbah Kamal said the process of land distribution is very slow which increases the chances of bribes and other types of corruption, and causes more hassles to the poor seeking allotments.
Mesbah stressed the need for making an updated list of the landless.
“Traditionally, we’ve different lists of the landless under different governments that do not correspond with each other. Each time the
government changes, a new enlistment of the landless takes place to the deprivation of the poor,” he said.
Unnayan Onneshan chairman Prof Rashed Al Mahmud Titumir said there exists a kind of property rights instability in the country because of power and political settlement.
The information asymmetry regarding lands leaves scopes for the dominance of the powerful over the land distribution process and leads to huge transaction cost for the poor when they try to access the Khas land.
Speaking on the occasion, Land Minister Rezaul Karim Hira said most of the laws related to lands in the country are outdated, and thus fail to protect the rights of the poor.
“Our laws bear the legacy of the Colonial rules. Those were enacted to protect the interest of the Jaminder class… to exploit people,” he said.
The speakers also recommended enacting a law to ensure proper distribution of Khas lands. At present, the land distribution is guided by a policy, which is not enough if the poor need to challenge the process in the court, they added.
Conducted by Boishakhi Television chief executive officer Manzurul Ahsan Bulbul, the roundtable dialogue was also addressed by State Minister for Law Quamrul Islam, Care Bangladesh country director Jamie Terzi and Information Commissioner Prof Sadeka Halim. (Source: UNB)

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