Commission in Bihar Recommends Greater Protection for 'Share-Croppers'

From PTI:

A commission on land reforms in Bihar has suggested to the state government to bring a new legislation to protect 'bataidars' (share-croppers), besides capping on land ceiling and computerisation of land records.

Although, the D Bandopadhayay Commission report was not tabled by the state government before the House during the monsoon session that ended yesterday, CDs containing the report were made available to the legislatures outside the Assembly.

Suggesting a cap on land ceiling at 15 acres (for both agricultural and non-agricultural land), the commission has recommended creation of better mechanisms for mutation, identification of bhoodan land and toning up revenue administration.

The commission also recommended enactment of a harsh legislation to take action against those hiding their surplus land in 'benami' names or through covert transfers.

The benami transaction (prohibition of the right to recovery) act 1989 should also be amended, it suggests.

Some background from D. Bandhopadhyay, Chairman of the Bihar Land Commission from 2007:

...I had the opportunity to revisit Madhubani on November 14-15, 2006. The time gap between the first and the second visit was over three decades. A piece on the first trip to Madhubani was published in Mainstream sometime in 1973. The present one is a ‘Post Script’.

Infrastructure-wise Madhubani remains as backward as before. The road distance between Patna and Madhubani is 160 km. The road conditions are so bad that it takes over seven hours to cover this distance by car. Cars invariably breakdown no matter how sturdy and well maintained they are. From a couple of tyre punctures to snapping of spring leaf of rear wheels to jamming of the hydraulic shock absorbers, one has to brave them all with the serenity of a meditating monk. Through the benevolence of the State Government we covered the distance in 35 minutes by a State plane. But one member of our team, who could not be accommodated in the plane, made the road journey whose experience is narrated above.

Three decades ago one could feel the heat of the simmering discontent of the bataidars (sharecroppers). A strong movement was going on there guided by the CPI, particularly under the charismatic leadership of Bhogendra Jha who was returned for five consecutive terms as an MP from Madhubani. Today he is an icon. There is no movement of bataidars. There are isolated flash-points but no coordinated mass movement....

Another “Jan Sunwai” was organised in village Selibeli on November 15 morning. This village has a long history of struggle by bataidars to assert their right of cultivation. Huge areas of agricultural lands in this and other neighbouring villages were owned by a religious Trust whose “Mahant” was the undisputed “Raja” of the area. Temporal possession of large areas and his spiritual position as the head of the religious “Mutt” made him a formidable personality whose word of mouth was the “ law” in the area. Under the guidance of the CPI led by the redoubtable peasant leader, Bhogendra Jha, bataidars organised themselves from 1971 onwards. On November 30, 1972 when the bataidars started harvesting the crop sown by them goons employed by the Mahant murdered seven bataidars for their truculence. The simmering situation boiled over. The Mahant himself was murdered not by revengeful bataidars but due to internal feud for the control of the “Mutt” property. Selibeli became the symbol of the bataidars’ non-violent resistance to violent methods of oppression by landowning classes. The CPI, which led the bataidar movement in Madhubani district, lost 54 of their cadres and party sympathisers in course of the struggle. The latest victim was Soman Sahay of village Akaur in 2006. It was to revive that history and to carry forward the task of recognition of bataidari rights that the “Jan Sunwai” was held there.

I still hold to my belief that for either capitalism or social democracy or state capitalism or communism to take root in India on a country wide basis, a major necessary condition is for there to be a social revolution and radical land reform.  However, IF this Commission's recommendations are accurately reported here and IF the recommendations are legislated and IF the legislation is implemented without being totally subverted and IF it does not result in being overturned, then this seems like it might have some mild gains for agricultural workers, administrative efficiency, and reducing some of the misery (from my standpoint) that ordinary life entails for the median Indian worker.

As you might guess, I'm not wholly optimistic, but I suppose it's better than nothing. 

By: on 31 Jul 2009