Dec 11, 2009

Sindh: Government Land Distribution

Active ImageThousands of people, 70% of whom are women, have been allotted land to date under the Sindh government’s land distribution programme.  A report was released yesterday prepared by the Participatory Development Initiative (PDI), in coordination with Oxfam-GB.



Below is an article published by The International News:

As many as 4,196 people have been allotted land to date under the Sindh government’s land distribution programme for female peasants, said Faisal Ahmed Okeli, the programme coordinator for the Sindh government’s Landless Haaris Programme. He was speaking on Thursday (10 December) at the launch of a study report on the issues and challenges of the land development programme. The report has been prepared by the Participatory Development Initiative (PDI), in coordination with Oxfam-GB.

About 70 per cent of the 4,196 peasants who have been allotted land are women. Thirty-five per cent of the allottees are “problematic Haaris,” according to Okeli. “This means that there are issues with their allotments, which we are currently trying to work through. Support packages, including seeds, fertilisers, some funds, etc, were delivered to the remaining 65 per cent. Many of them have already harvested the crop on this land, and have sold their first produce in the market.”

According to PDI representatives, however, many of the 4,196 allotments are “problematic”. “For instance, the land allotted to one woman turned out to be a portion of the sea,” said PDI Director Sikander Brohi. “She asked us what crops the government wants her to sow under the sea. In many other cases, all of the allotted land, or at least a portion of it, turned out to be a graveyard. In Nawabshah, for instance, we came across one woman who had been allotted 16 acres; four to five acres of this was a graveyard.”

Informal village settlements were also allotted to some peasants, leading to brawls over ownership between the settlers and the allottees. “A lot of this land was also allotted to wives of influential people,” Brohi said. “In many cases, instead of issuing final allotment orders at open Katcheries, revenue officials merely issued lists of names and told the allottees to come to the revenue department for their land ownership papers. People who could afford to travel went to the revenue office; many of them found that the lists had been changed and their names were no longer included in the new lists.”

Brohi said that they had also been informed about alleged “mass mobilisations” to file appeals against some allotments. Litigations have cropped up against many allotments, and most of the affected Haaris are too poor to afford legal aid. “Meanwhile, gun-toting thugs have occupied some of the disputed land. I saw them myself in district Thatta; they were all followers of elected representatives who are now sitting in the provincial and federal governments. We have also heard about revenue officials who are demanding hefty bribes in return for allotment papers. According to our estimate, around 70 per cent of the allottees have not received their documents yet.”

Meanwhile, in the light of discrepancies and shortfalls in the process, the government has now halted the land allocation to wait for a better, relatively more “error-free” method. This, Brohi said, was an injustice to the people. “This process should not have been stopped. It is very important to complete all components, especially for projects as revolutionary as this,” he maintained.

The current land distribution programme was the third in the history of the country. The first such programme was conducted during the government of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) chairperson, the late Benazir Bhutto; the second was conducted under Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief, Nawaz Sharif.

Both programmes were the result of a policy shift from land reforms to State land distribution after the Federal Shariah Court (FSC), under General Ziaul Haq’s Martial Law regime, overturned even cautious land reforms introduced during the tenure of PPP founder, the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

While the objectives of the current programme were clear in that the key emphasis was on the distribution of land among landless women, in many districts, such as Sukkur, Jacobabad and Dadu, the number of male beneficiaries of the programme outnumbered the women.

The PDI team also observed inequality in the distribution of the land. At first it was announced that eight acres would be distributed among each landless family; then there was a figure of 16 acres; there were also reports that President Asif Ali Zardari had instructed the Sindh government to allot 25 acres to each landless peasant. On the field, no single criterion for distribution could be observed, and allocations varied between a single acre to as many as 24 acres, the report said.

Sindh Land Utilisation Secretary Subhan Memon conceded that the problems on the ground were graver than those indicated in the PDI report. He suggested weekly or fortnightly meetings on these issues in order to provide third-party evaluation to the government; the suggestion was welcomed by the participants of Thursday’s programme.

He further said that the process was currently in its “nascent phase,” and there was “much to learn.” Memon also identified a lack of programme preparation package, as well as societal “push-and-pull” factors, such as tribal and feudal landholdings, easily-influenced bureaucrats, and corruption, as some of the drawbacks of the project, and promised rectification for all these shortfalls in phase two of the programme.

Okeli regaled the audience with the technical triumphs of his team. Land allotments have been plotted on Google Earth; timeline assessments have been made in some districts through satellite imagery with the help of SUPARCO; impact assessment snaps have been taken; expected income on Kharif crops has been assessed by an independent consortium; micro-health insurance facilities have been organised; and collaboration has been made with the Pakistan State Oil (PSO) to provide biodiesel seeds to peasants who have been allotted land with water-shortage issues. “PSO has also given us a buyback guarantee on these crops,” Okeli claimed.

MPA Humera Alvani from Thatta complained, however, that the revenue department had not briefed local elected representatives about the programme, “otherwise we could have solved many of your issues ourselves”. She added, however, that land allotment had given a sense of ownership to peasant women who had been treated like chattel all their lives. “It is, however, important to ensure more transparency in the entire process,” she said in Sindhi. “If we have initiated a programme that is appreciated, we should complete it too.”

“Our elected representatives should not think that they can take us for a ride,” Brohi said. “The political climate of the country has changed. People are more aware now. Sindh is changing, and we now know how to demand and get our rights, regardless of who is in power.”

PDI Programme Manager Altaf Shaikh, Programme Officer Asghar Laghari, Oxfam-GB Country Director Neva Khan also spoke. Sindh Revenue Minister Jam Mehtab Dahar, who was the chief guest for the programme, did not attend, ostensibly because he was unwell. Participants of the meeting raised several other issues related to the land distribution programme, and offered suggestions during the question-and-answer session.