Comprehensive legislation on land reform sought

Kathmandu, October 2

Amnesty International Nepal, Community Self-Reliance Centre and Justice and Rights Institute-Nepal today said the recent Land (Eighth Amendment)  bill was not enough to bring desired reform in the land management sector.

Those organisations issued a joint press release urging the government to formulate and introduce an integrated legislation to address the long-standing agenda of land reform and to enhance access to land to those households and communities, who relied on land use for their livelihood.

Although the Constitution of Nepal has recognised access to land as one of the fundamental rights, only five per cent of the population controls 37 per cent of arable land. According to those organisations, overall, 26.1 per cent of agricultural households in Nepal do not have their own land for farming. Only 19.71 per cent of women have ownership of land and landlessness among the Dalits is very high at 36.7 per cent among the hill population and 41.4 per cent among Madhesi Dalit.

“Access to land and productive resources for communities that are marginalised and discriminated against is indispensable for enabling them to enjoy many of their economic, social and cultural rights; including the right to live with dignity, the right to food and the right to adequate housing,” said Nirajan Thapaliya, director of AI Nepal. “Realisation of economic, social and cultural rights through enhancing equitable access to land is a must to address one of the root causes of the decade long armed conflict and political and social justice movements in Nepal.” While recognising the recent amendments to the Lands Act as important step towards addressing the problem of landlessness, the three rights organisations in their briefing on ‘Land for Landless Peoples: Comments and Recommendations on Amendment to the Lands Act-1964’  pointed out numerous flaws in terms of the process and substance of the amendments. Flaws pointed out in the briefing basically related to the definition of landlessness, determining entitlements, setting the criteria for providing land to landless peasants, Dalits and other indigenous communities including Tharu, and creating an independent mechanism to assess the situation of landlessness.

“If the government  and leadership of the ruling and the opposition parties are serious about their commitments reflected in their election manifestos for land reform since 1950, they must give up a piecemeal approach to addressing the land issues and prioritise the formulation and enactment of a comprehensive legislation on land reform,” said Jagat Basnet, executive director of CSRC. He said land reform was  gradually becoming a forgotten agenda given the lack of genuine political will towards turning the goal of ‘equitable access to land’ for peasants into a reality.

The briefing also stressed that the future legislation on land must bring in its scope the constitutional and human rights promises for land reforms. It should ensure access of peasants and other groups such as indigenous people and women to cultivable land, as part of the core international human rights treaties, including the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that Nepal is a party to. “The legislative initiative on an integrated approach towards land reform with implications for fundamental rights must not only be flawless from the perspectives of the constitution and international human rights instruments for the sustainable development goals, but the process of formulation of any bill or regulation must also be transparent and participatory,” said Pankaj Kumar Karna, Chair of JuRI-Nepal. “Broad based ownership garnered through consultation and participation of stakeholders is a perquisite for effectiveness of any law and public policy.”

The briefing recommended the government to adopt a holistic approach to addresses a wide range of issues including exploitative land relations, access to land for those who were dependent on land for livelihood and ceiling for landholdings. The new Land Bill which has already been passed by both the Houses of the Parliament is awaiting the President’s seal for approval.