Experts seek land reforms for socioeconomic development

ISLAMABAD: Foreign and national experts at a regional conference and workshop stressed the need to bring land reforms by distributing large landholdings among poor farmers, particularly women, and to support farmers through timely and proper subsidies.

The first session of the two-day Regional Experience Sharing Conference and Workshop on Land Reforms Movements in Asia was organised by Society for Conservation and Protection of Environment SCOPE in collaboration with International Land Coalition, Oxfam Pakistan, Drynet, ANGOC, AAHM and Land Watch Asia at a local hotel.

In his welcome address, Tanveer Arif, Chief Executive Officer CEO, SCOPE, said that land reforms in Pakistan are an unfinished agenda. “Country has experienced three attempts of ineffective land reforms in 1959, 1972 and 1977. Redistributive land reforms state’s takeover of land from large landowners and its allotment to the landless farmers did not achieve a great deal due to the political power wielded by the landowning classes.”

He further said that unfortunately in 1977, General Zia Ul Haq toppled the civil government and during his era a Shariat Bench of Supreme Court of Pakistan upheld an appeal to declare land reforms against the law of Shariat. “Abid Hassan Minto, Chairman of Workers Party Pakistan, along with other political leaders and social activists has moved to Supreme Court of Pakistan to review this verdict,” he said.

He said that all major political parties must clearly express their commitment about a land reforms programme in Pakistan. “They should include equitable, effective land and agrarian reforms in their election manifesto. A comprehensive pro-poor land and agrarian reforms programme should be implemented in Pakistan with immediate effect which is based on equity, gender justice principles.”

He further said that the verdict of Shariat Bench of Supreme Court, during Gen. Zial ul Haq which declared land reforms against Islamic principles, should be reviewed and revoked through a legislation while landless women should be given priority in land redistribution programme and all discriminatory legal and cultural practices be abandoned which prevent women’s property rights.

He said that land ownership ceiling be fixed with an appropriate size on family basis. The necessary legislation should be introduced in favour of land reforms. The land recovered from large land owners should be distributed among the peasant landless farmers, who have been working there with proper legal titles.

He said that existing provincial tenancy acts should be reformed to allow workers to establish unions, demand fair wages and receive land titles supporting their legal rights to the land; while legal mechanisms should be put in place to adjudicate complaints and resolve conflicts.

Dr. Madiodio Niasse, Director International Land Coalition ILC in his video message applaud the organization of this regional experience sharing workshop and assured ILC’s commitment to support regional land right advocacy movements through capacity building of regional civil society organizations.

Several parliamentarians also spoke in the inaugural session, besides Mr. Gul Najam Jami, assistant country representative of UNDP and Mr. Zaffar Sabri of Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund PPAF.

Senator Taj Haider said that it would be good if Supreme Court may give verdict in land reforms case, being awaited by poor segments of the society. He said that farmers should be given subsidies on crops before harvesting so that they could get real benefit. Late provision of crop subsidies is not beneficial for the farmers, he added.

Taj Haider said that sea had eroded 2.2 million acres of land in Thatta and Badin districts which was a great land loss, however, some part of this land is being recovered by establishing banks to stop sea erosion under Zulfikarabad city project in Thatta. He said that thousands of acres of land was with generals in Cholistan, Sindh and other areas of the country, hence, there were troubles in bringing land reforms.

Parliamentarian of MQM Mr. Rasheed Godail said that land lords and feudal people are main reason behind backwardness in rural areas because they do not contribute to social development. However, we have done a good development as compared to them. He said that agriculture tax should be imposed to contribute to the social development.

Najam Jami of UNDP said that inequality of land distribution is big problem in Pakistan. He stressed the need to bring result oriented land reforms to alleviate poverty and ensure prosperity among people. He said: “Laws exist in Pakistan but they are not being implemented.”

Zafar Sabri, of PPAF, and a development expert, said that poverty is not natural thing but it has been created by one human for another. He called for better water management in the country and said that new techniques should be adopted to provide water to the roots of plants so as to avoid water wastage. Pakistan has best irrigation system but water distribution is not justified because landlords are stealing water ruthlessly, he added.

PMLN MPA Ms. Sorath Thebo said that state of women in Sindh is deplorable as they have been compelled to work in crop fields. The state of education in rural areas of the country is also worst, she said. Ms. Thebo said that land reforms is a big issue but it is irony that media is not highlighting it.

She urged the media to highlight this issues like others in real manners so that farmers could get their due rights. She said that provinces has got autonomy under the 18th Amendment of the Constitution in Pakistan but it was unfortunate that farmers have still not been given their due rights.

Dr. Saeeda, PPP Senator, said: “There is not only inequality of land distribution in Pakistan but education, health and other social sectors are also victim of such inequality. She said that farmers and labourers are equality affected in the country; hence, both need their due rights.

PPP leader Ms. Mahreen Anwar Raja said that land reforms has roots among people. “Positive approach is needed to bring land reforms. Raising mere slogans is an empty practice.” She said that Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto did good for farmers, labourers and poor people.

Appreciation awards were also presented to civil society leaders and activists for showing innovations in land rights efforts.

Jagat Basnet, a land reforms civil society leader from Nepal, said that land and agrarian reforms advocacy is mandatory for supporting poor segment of the society. He said European countries are terming land reforms mandatory for socioeconomic development but it is unfortunate that South Asian countries are not thinking it necessary. He said that mostly women do not own land, therefore, they are victim of domestic violence in the region. “Land is dignity, power and a major source of livelihood, therefore, it is the need of the hour that land reforms should be brought forthwith.”

Kabin Maha Rajan, from COLARP, a researcher from Nepal, said constitutionally, women have equal land rights in his country. He said that land reforms are mandatory for development. He called for supporting peasants community, particularly women, for development.

Keshab Dahal from Abhyan Nepal, said that deep rooted autocratic feudal system is also a big issue. He called for bringing land reforms through result oriented policies and struggle so as to ensure development in the region.

Nhek Sarin from Cambodia said that civil society in Cambodia is making efforts to bring land reforms. He said there is need to boost capacity building to bring land reforms and resolve other issues facing farming community in this regard.

PTI MNA Hamidul Haq, Sikandar Brohi and other leaders also spoke on the occasion.

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