Thursday, 6 May, 2021

Meeting Land Reforms Targets


Parmeshwar Devkota


Till the end of the Rana period, absentee landlordism was a characteristic of Nepal for three reasons. First, the Rana and Shah families and their relatives and the feudal class owned a huge chunk of land. Second, the favoured high-ranking government and army officials, upon their retirement, would get land as awards while shrewd civil servants used to occupy several villages at their disposal.
Third, some powerful people, and principalities used to utilise a lot of land as per the existing practices like Birta and Kipat (under these systems, people would be allowed to utilise land paying taxes partially or fully). With the then land lord occupying large swathes of land and the poorer ones working as bonded labourers, the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal had raised the land reform issue as one of the agendas during and after the 1950 Revolution.
However, an Act related to land reform was brought in 1964. In the modern political history of Nepal, the equitable distribution of land has remained one of the most pertinent issues among political parties. A high-level land commission was formed in 1994-95 to resolve land related issues.
But the scientific land reforms, commercialisation of agricultural and equitable redistribution of land among citizens were the main targets that every successive government wants to achieve. The present government has worked seriously to meet the aforementioned challenges on three fronts.

Land reform initiatives
The government has published a new map of Nepal incorporating Lipulek, Limpiyadhura and Kalapani. It has erected 1,093 new border pillars and repaired 890 old ones. For the first time, it also measured the height of Sagarmatha (Mt Everest) with the help of Nepali geologists, resources and technology.
The present government has, according to Janak Raj Joshi, Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation, has gained significant achievements at policy level. He said that the National Land Policy, 2075 has been implemented and the Poverty Eradication Policy, 2076 has already been approved. The eighth amendment to the Land Utilisation Act has been made to provide lands and shelters to the landless squatters and Dalits.
A powerful taskforce is working to resolve the problems concerning land reforms. The Land Utilisation Regulation, 2077 has envisaged the concept of a Land Bank. After accepting the concept paper on the Land Bank, 300 local units have applied for the operation of the bank. The government has continued to receive feedback from the local bodies regarding the operation of the proposed bank.
The government has issued an order to prevent various individuals from using 421 bighas, 5 katthas and 15 dhurs of the unregistered public land which they occupied illegally. Similarly, the government has also issued a prevention order for the nationalisation of 1, 0192 bighas of land after fixing limits on the ownership against various individuals. It is constructing over 100 houses at Bhimdutta Municipality in Kanchanpur district to house the ex-Kamayas and land tillers.
Over 48,000 land ownership certificates have been issued to individuals. The land utilisation data has been shared with 532 local levels as well. The government has upgraded record keeping system at 108 Land Reforms and Land Revenue Offices, where the database is now maintained on computer.
A nonagenarian, Motilal Shrestha of Satthighar in Kavreplanchowk district, has had an interesting story to tell about the land revenue collection system of his youthful days.
According to Shrestha, in those days, landowners did not have to go to any office to pay their land taxes. Instead, tax collectors of the Rana period along with local Jimmuwals or Mukhiyas would visit farmlands to fix the land tax. Along with
Thalus, the headsmen of the society or their assistants would visit paddy fields in the month of Ashwin or Kartik and would fix the tax of the lands.
If the paddy production was good, the farmers would be forced to pay much. The payment could be made in cash or kind. 
They used to accept he-goats, lactating cattle, silver/copper utensils instead of money. If a farmer had a good rapport with local leaders, the farmer would receive a waiver. Otherwise, paying land revenue used to be a tough job in those days, he said.
The taxpaying was done ‘at the will of the despotic rulers,’ he recalled.

Cooperatives economy
The government has recognised cooperatives as the third pillar of the national economy. Therefore, it has undertaken some steps to improving the condition of cooperatives scattered around the country. The Cooperative Manual, 2075, and the Auditing Guidelines, 2075, are currently in operation.
The Internal Cooperatives Transaction Procedure has been approved, and 14, 400 farmers of 72 production sectors around the capital city have directly been linked with the markets in Kathmandu. Similarly, 1, 018 persons associated with 73 cooperatives have been given various types of training such as cooperative management training, occupational, vocational as well as professional management training.
Various funds have been set up within a cooperative for its smooth functioning, fixing interest rate and monitoring. Poverty alleviation is one of the most challenging areas for any government. This is because the status of poverty is reflected on the living standard of citizens. Therefore, the government has introduced the Poverty Alleviation Policy, 2075. The paper includes provisions to identify the poor households and cover various aspects of poor citizens. It helps identify their income sources, skills, etc. The government can adopt empirical approaches to solving the problems facing the poor.
Under the ‘Bisheshwor with Poor Programme’, the government has allocated Rs. 5 million to each of 14 local levels of seven provinces to improve the livelihoods of the poor communities. The second phase of identifying the poor has been initiated. Under this initiative, the data of 1.1 million people from 23 districts has been collected.

(Devkota is TRN’s Managing Editor.)