Karachi: Senior economists and rights activists on Wednesday underlined the need to introduce land reforms to provide agriculture land among landless peasants to empower them socially and politically.
They asked for reserved seats for peasants and workers in the parliament because the current system does not allow these sections of the society to get their representation in the assemblies. The senior economists Akbar Zaidi and Dr Aly Ercelan and Executive Director of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research PILER Karamat Ali were speaking at a Consultation on “Addressing the Inequality Gap: A Dialogue on Land Rights” organised by Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research PILER at a local hotel.
Those who also took part in discussion included Taj Haider, Habibuddin Junaidi, Latif Mughal of PPP, Mehnaz Rahman of Aurat Foundation, Prof. Aijaz Qureshi, Tanweer Arif, Zahid Farooq and others. Senior economist Akbar Zaidi said in the last budget speech there is no mention of peasants and labour rights or giving them relief, only focus is put on solving energy crisis. He said mere land reforms would not solve the problems of peasants for that agriculture reforms are also essential in which irrigation water and credit for purchase of seeds and fertilizers be made available.
He reviewed the previous land reforms in the country and said there are two arguments against land reforms. First argument is that there was no benefit of two major land reforms. The second argument is now there is no big landholding in the country so why further distribution of the land. He said in fact half of the population living in rural areas does not have their own land, where as only 5% of people have ownership of only one-third of the cultivable land.
Zaidi said about 67 crore of people are living below poverty line in Pakistan and majority of them are living in rural areas.
He recommended that the agriculture land be distributed under land reforms. One method of distribution can be to recover the land from big landlords who have surplus land and redistribute it among landless peasants. He apprehended that due to heavy presence of feudal lords in the assemblies this may not happened. However, he said the government should first initiate distribution of the government own land among landless peasants. He said the government has got 2.6 million acres of the agriculture land and if this land is distributed about 520,000 peasants can be benefitted if a family is given five acre of the land. This would help alleviate poverty and improve food security.
He pointed out that small growers try to cultivate about 90 percent of their land, but big landlords do not bother to cultivate his entire land so there is need to give agriculture land to the peasants. Executive Director, Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research PILER Karamat Ali said that land reforms is missing from the agenda
of political parties for many years.
He recalled that the first land reforms were introduced in 1959 during the Ayoub government. At the time 6,000 big land owners were occupying 7.5 million acres of the land. Because of that land reforms about 1.1 million acres were resumed which included only 3 million acre of cultivable land, remaining 8 million land was uncultivable at that time.
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto introduced land reforms in 1972 and reduced the land holding limit to 150 acres for irrigated land and 300 acres for barani land. Because of that about 1.3 million acres were resumed out of that 700,000 acres of the land was cultivable.
He said land value is linked with social and economic power. People who don’t have land do not have any political and economic powers in the society. In 1946 elections, only 15 percent population was eligible to contest elections. In Sindh and Punjab assemblies 90 percent elected members were big land lords. The same patterned in the following elections in Sindh can be seen. In 1971 elections when all citizens got right to vote more than 80 percent of the seats went to landlords.
Big land holding is a big impediment to give people a representation in the assemblies. “Presently we don’t have representation of workers and down trodden population in the assemblies,” he said adding that local government elections are not held because these landlords do not allow it happen. In the past 33% seats were reserved for women and 33% were reserved for local bodies for workers, so powerful landlords do not want to give representation to such portion of the population. There is a nexus between the Commissioner system and big landlords. Fragmentation of the land holding has occurred because of the distribution of the land among family members. In 1977 Land Reforms Act was passed, in which land holding limit is 100 irrigated land and 150 acres for rain cultivation land. If land is recovered and distributed at the rate of 1 acre per capital among landless Haris all landless people would get the land. He said condition of peasants in rural areas are the same as was decades ago.
He referred the dissent not by Masood Khaddar Posh in the report who recommended the end of share cropping system, which is a inhuman system. In his dissent note Khaddar Posh described the bad conditions of peasants and also described the lavish lives of landlords at that time. The peasants condition has further deteriorated in interior of Sindh.
Senior economist Dr Aly Ercelan said Japan, China, Korea and Vietnam had introduced land reforms much earlier, which indicated that if land from half to one acre per person be given they can earn livelihood. He said Agriculture Census’ district data is also available, which indicates that rural population can earn only Rs. 4,000 per month, which is less than the minimum wages. Dr. Ercelan said cooperative farming is a solution for solving rural problems. He gave an example of Kerala land reforms and successful cooperatives.