Land reforms required for a just and sustainable society

  • Shreekumar | 30 June 2020

The Karnataka Cabinet has decided to take the ordinance route to implement amendments to the Land Reforms Act that will enable anyone with enough money to buy agricultural land.  This amendment will open the floodgates for predatory capital to enter agriculture.  Land ownership will be consolidated in the hands of people with money.  It will also lead to large scale mechanised agriculture.  Our policies must be aimed at optimum land holdings for sustainable, climate-resilient agriculture.  The importance of agriculture in ecological restoration and the fact that no sector of the economy can match agriculture in providing employment must not be forgotten while framing policies.  Land reforms must be part of a larger policy shift towards social justice and sustainability.

Our laws and policies must be framed so as to promote social justice and sustainability.  Thus far, our policies have been guided by considerations of economic growth rather than sustainability.  Since neo-liberalism gained ground, our policies came to be guided solely by pursuit of economic growth, without even bothering to think about who benefited from it.  This has resulted in unacceptable economic inequality as well as ecological destruction.  Now that climate change has reached a point of crisis, it is necessary to recognise that the crisis is a symptom of the fact that humanity has been conducting its affairs in an unsustainable manner.  We are truly in an emergency and we must respond to it as we do to any emergency, i.e. according it the highest priority.  Justice and sustainability must be the guiding principles of all our policies and our laws must also be aligned with these principles.  One of the most important steps in this direction is enacting suitable land reforms.

Recognising that the climate crisis is the result of relentless pursuit of economic growth disregarding ecological limits, profit maximisation must be rejected as the driving force of economic activities.  It should be replaced by considerations of security and minimisation of risk to all, especially to the poor.  Ecological restoration must now be undertaken on priority.  Rebuilding soil fertility, restoring water security and protecting biodiversity are important aspects of ecological restoration.  Our laws and policies must be changed so as to be aligned with this priority.  They should be guided by a holistic vision of a just and sustainable society. Knee-jerk reactions to situations arising from earlier shortsighted policies are to be avoided.  Further, alleviation of poverty itself must not be hostage to the desire of the rich to maximise profits.  It should follow from our constitutional commitment to right to life, dignity and equality of opportunities.  Amendments to Land Reforms must be guided by this constitutional commitment and the urgency of ecological restoration.

Agriculture must no longer be meant just for producing food but must also be an integral part of ecological restoration.  Seen from this point of view, it must not be an economic activity driven by maximisation of return on investment.  Land must not be a commodity but should be considered as commons if anyone who wishes to do farming, not just for producing food but as part of a project of ecological restoration, is to have access to it.  Ecological restoration must be a mission and must attract not just those who have left farming but also other people who wish to participate in it. Ideally, land use planning must be done based on considerations of ecological sustainability, taking micro-watersheds as units.  There should be usufruct rights for permissible use of land.  Usufruct rights must be given preferably to cooperatives.  The size of land holdings must be what is optimum for sustainable, climate-resilient agriculture.

Value addition from farming must be evaluated not just from the economic value of the produce but also on the ecological value of restoring soil fertility, water security and biodiversity.  There must be a policy to train farmers in agro-ecological methods and farmers should be paid for doing restoration work.  Scientists must be consulted to device a rational method of compensating farmers for ecological restoration.  The possibility of strengthening programmes like NREGA for undertaking such work must be considered.  This has the potential to not just stop migration of farmers due to ecological degradation but even encourage them to return to their places to participate in restoration.  This work, being of the highest priority, should not suffer from paucity of funds.  Transparency and monitoring by local bodies must prevent corruption.  Taxation on all economic activities that are extractive in nature must be used for raising funds for the mission of ecological restoration.  The guarantee of security offered to farmers must be sufficient to wean them away from demanding subsidies and populist policies.

The policies suggested here will not find easy acceptance but are based on the realities of climate crisis and unacceptable economic disparities.  Changes in our laws and policies must at least proceed in this direction.  Policies leading to consolidation of land in the hands of powerful people or corporations should not be allowed at any cost since it will lead to greater economic inequality as well as further ecological destruction through the use of extractive practices in agriculture.  Using an ordinance to implement such a policy amounts to a fraud on the constitution and on the people of the nation.

  • Shreekumar

(Formerly taught chemical engineering at NITK Surathkal, doing farming as part of a sustainable lifestyle)

Sangatya Commune, Nakre, Karkala Taluk, Udupi District, Karnataka 576 117


Phone: 94803 46081