Tuesday, 11 August, 2020
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INTERVIEW

Days are over for land mafia to capture public land



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Practice of grabbing and encroaching the public and government land has been increasing in the country. The government, for the past few months, has been working to collect the data of the public and private land and freeing them from the clutch of land-mafia. The government is moving with a plan to secure the public land, which was encroached and illegally transferred to individual ownership. It has already returned some of the grabbed land. Likewise, it is also focusing on the proper settlement of the landless squatters. It is implementing the land acts for the proper utilisation of lands based on their classification. In this regard, Minister for Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation Padma Kumari Aryal spoke on various issues related to government land at the weekly Gorkhapatra Sambad on Sunday. Excerpts:

It is said that the Ministry of Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation has been collecting data of the encroached government land to bring the encroached land back to government ownership. What is the progress of the campaign?
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has expressed his firm commitment to maintain good governance in all sectors. We, all the ministers, are working to achieve the national goal. As Minister for Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation, I am trying my best to correct all he anomalies that have been seen in the land sector for decades.
There is no statistics of the public and government land in the country. In the beginning, I focused on introducing technology-friendly land registration offices. As per the data received from the land registration offices in which we have introduced online services, the government owns 3,454,603 bighas of public and government land across the country. We are continuing the data collection in the rural areas. We have requested the local bodies to support in this regard. We found that the government land in many places was changed into private ownership. We wonder how it was possible. But in some places we have faced court cases while trying to retain the government land from individuals. I am firm that I will not implement the court verdict that goes against the government land and have told the employees to rethink while implementing the verdict.
Recently, around 19 bighas of government land registered in an individual’s name in Barahathwa in Sarlahi district was annulled. The then chief of the Land Registration Office, in Barthawa Municipality Bindeshwor Mahato had transferred the government land in the individual’s name on August this year, two days before he retired on age grounds.
When I got information about this, I immediately sent a team to study the case. It was found that the land was transferred in the name of the individual. Later, I called the officers of the Land Registration Office and Survey and directed them to forward the process to scrap the illegal registration. They completed all the procedures but could not scrap the registration. I reached the office myself and requested the offices to cancel the registration of the land in my presence. I assured the officers’ security and committed to transferring him to Kathmandu Valley if he feels unsafe there.
This is an example. These types of anomalies in land sector are rampant, mostly in the Terai and the Kathmandu Valley. With the increasing value of land, the land-mafias have become active to occupy the government and public land. We cannot preserve the government and public land without controlling these malpractices.
Report of the high-level committee formed to study the government, public and guthi lands is enough to protect the government lands. The committee was formed after receiving reports that the public, government and guthi lands in various parts of the country were being encroached and illegally transferred into personal property.  We are now in the process to implement the report. The report showed that around 4,300 bighas of land was encroached across the country.
I have heard the issue of Gaucharan of Chitwan where a large number of landless squatters are living. The government will try to manage for their proper settlement. As per the policy, the government will provide land for the landless squatters based on their categories. If fake landless squatters are occupying the land, the government will remove them.

You, as a Minister of the Federal Government, are portraying a horrible situation of public and government land that land-mafias are active across country to grab. What are processes that you have initiated to return the public land from land-mafia?
First, we have to identify the encroached land. When we identify the illegally grabbed land, we will cancel their registration and remove all the landless squatters who are occupying the land.
In Ratna Nagar, Chitwan, around 12-13 bighas of government land is occupied by landless people. The land is suitable to develop sports ground. I have directed the municipalities to look for alternative place to manage the landless squatters and develop the place as a sports ground.
After identifying the public and government land, we will display the signboard informing the public that the land belongs to the government in the first phase. And in the second phase, we will register the land in the government’s name. This campaign will be meaningful. However, all concerned authorities, including ministries of federal, state and local governments, people’s representatives, political leaders and general people should cooperate us.

Have you set any deadline to complete the process of returning government land now being occupied by the land-mafia?
There is no such a deadline. It is a continuing process. We have to make field study. We have to complete all the legal procedures. So, we cannot fix a certain timeframe to complete this task. However, our first priority is to return the land which is grabbed or encroached by misusing one’s position and power. We are collecting the actual data of the encroached land. We have found that around 139 bighas of Guthi land was encroached across the country. In many places the land was transferred in individuals’ name. Returning the land is a challenge as final victims are the final land users. Many innocent people have bought the land without knowing that their ownership had earlier been transferred illegally.

Is there any relevance of Guthi Sansthan when the country has already become secular?
Guthi Sansthan was developed for preserving Guthi’s properties. After the Sansthan failed to preserve the Guthi land properly, the government adopted a concept to widely preserve the Guthi land. On behalf of the Ministry, I had presented the Guthi bills in the parliament, which we withdrew later. In the bill, we had proposed to dissolve the Guthi Sansthan and create an authority. We have resumed discussion on the issue again. We will discuss the issue widely and ask the stakeholders to provide their suggestions in written. We will discuss it with the political leaders to make the Guthi bill relevant incorporating the voices of all stakeholders. The State will not interfere of in the private Guthi. The private Guthis are run by the trustees themselves where the government is ready to support them. The stakeholders are now clear about the Guthi bill proposed by the government.

The issue of landless squatters and homeless is rising for the last couple of years, but it has not been addressed so far. What will be the next step of the government to resolve this problem?
There are different types of problems. We have to address the problems based on the nature of their problems. A person who has not any piece of land across the country and he/she is unable to purchase land is a real landless squatter. We, the government, will provide certain land for their settlement free of cost. But in Nepal, there are a few people who own land in one place, but call themselves landless squatter by occupying land in the new place. There is a difficulty to remove them. In this situation, we have to treat them in different ways.
Likewise, many people have occupied the government land of the road area and have constructed buildings and are running business. We will analyse the landless status based on the social justice and provide support to the genuine poor. There is no need to support the capable ones.

Proper land use is a must for country’s development. But that is not happening in Nepal. What is the government plan for this?
The government has introduced the land act and is formulating the land regulations based on the new act. Its proper implementation is challenging. If all people work honestly for its implementation, there will be a revolution in land utilisation in Nepal. Irregularities happen in the land sector due to lack of management.
We have to revaluate the price of land. The price of housing land has skyrocketed while the price of agricultural land is very nominal which encourage the people to use the agriculture land for housing purpose. Re-pricing land for the proper utilisation of land is required.
We are formulating an integrated land act as there are a dozens of land regulations which was difficult to follow because the provisions of regulations were contradicting each other. The local levels should be more responsible to use the land properly.
The land bill proposes to encourage community farming, not to allow leaving the land barren and establish the land bank in all local levels. The land bank will support trading of land. With the use of agricultural technologies, the productivity of land will increase and help make the country self-reliant.

The government has been identifying poor households, but it is said that even the well-off families and people’s representatives have listed themselves as poor. How will the government deal with this?
Definitely, we have received report that the well-off people and people’s representatives had taken the identity card as poor in the past. People’s representatives may be poor and if they take identity card, it is justified. But if they take the card by misusing their post and power, that will be made invalid.
The distribution of the identity card of poor was misused because the teams distributed the cards sitting in a ground of the village in the instruction of the local leaders. But now, we are distributing the card by using technology. We have developed software which will control the misuse. The teams have to visit the individual houses and take photographs while uploading the forms after talking with the concerned families.
After identifying the poor households, we plan to integrate the poor related programmes introduced by the different ministries.
As a piloting programme, the Ministry is trying to launch a programme in all seven states for uplifting the livelihood of the poor families this year. In the coming years, we will run the poor related programmes in those areas where the poor households are identified.

Is it true Nepal is issuing an official map showing Limpiyadhura in Nepal? If so, when?
Border problems have continued for a long time. Border issues have been raised time and again but it could not reach a conclusion. The government has taken this issue as an opportunity.
It has begun the work using diplomatic channels. The expected response from the Indian side has not been received yet. Legitimacy of a map is more important than issuing it. As per the international norms, the border map should be published in coordination with the two countries. India issued the map unilaterally which we do not accept and is not valid.

The government is encouraging the cooperatives for merger due to their mushrooming growth. What is your view on it?
The cooperatives are playing a crucial role for ensuring access of finance to the grassroots people. My view is to use the cooperatives for making the country prosperous. We have to make all cooperatives for production. We are amending the existing cooperative act to invest their capital in productive sectors. My view is to run the cooperatives for utilisation of the government programmes.
The cooperatives should use technology for digitalisation for maintaining good governance. One person should be a member of only a cooperative.

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