The Ministry of Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation has initiated a number of legal and other measures to manage government and private land. The ministry has also started collecting data of poor families with the objective of completing it within this year so that the government can soon launch programmes targeting poor families. Ram Kumar Kamat of The Himalayan Times caught up with Minister of Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation Padma Kumari Aryal to know the details of her ministry’s work. Excerpts:

The Land Bill will be passed by the Parliament soon. How will it benefit landless people?

The relevant panel of the House of Representatives has almost finished clause-wise discussion on the land bill which I think will soon be passed by the Lower House. We have brought this bill with the aim of ending the problems of landless people for good. Industrialists have also asked us to relax the provision that obstructs them from shifting their industries when they cannot produce the desired results. I have taken their concerns positively.  We cannot realise the goal of making our country happy and prosperous without attracting the private sector.

What are the concerns of industrialists?

They say they should be allowed to sell their industrial land and set up industry at a different place if the industry they have set up is not faring well and they risk losing their investment. The government allows industries to keep above the ceiling land if they seek permission from the government for industrial purposes. The existing law does not allow industrialists to relocate their industries. It also does not allow industrialists to use the money invested in an industry that is not doing well. We are trying to address their concerns. This means those industries that are not doing well in one place and run the risk of losing their investment, can apply to the government, following which the government will launch an inquiry. If it is convinced that the industries are really not doing well, then it may grant permission to those industries to relocate. The same may happen with schools, hospitals and organisations. The government may swap land with these entities.

The government pledged to end dual ownership of land but that programme has not succeeded. Why?

We pledged to end dual ownership but we have not been able to do so because tenancy rights exist. We want to end tenancy rights for good. Both land owners and tenants will be given half of the land where tenancy right has been established. Under the existing system, if there is no agreement between them, then the dispute will continue to affect relations. The new land bill proposes that even if there is no agreement between owner and tenant, the government will divide the land plot between them giving equal benefit to both sides.

What is your ministry doing to address the problems of landless people?

We have said that blanket type of solution may not work. For urban landless people, housing and job may be more beneficial, but we want to give certain amount of land to those landless people who live in the hills, mountains and the plains so that no one will be landless. The government also faces a big challenge managing unmanaged human settlements. Some people do not have official ownership certificate, yet they are selling their land plots informally. There are places where certain land areas have been categorised as forest area in the map, but sprawling urban centres have emerged in those places. There are many places in the Tarai where such things exist, including Morang and Jhapa districts. The government wants to categorise people into two groups: those with land ownership certificates and those without land ownership certificates. They are not landless people, but unmanaged settlers. For those who are settled on government land, the government wants to grant land ownership to them by charging appropriate fee. We will adopt different methods to solve the problem of landless people.

The government had given land plots to landless people in the past, but there were reports that they sold those land plots. What will the government do to stop such practice?

Land plots will be given to landless people just once. Eleven commissions were formed between 1991 and 2014 to address the problems of landless people. Those commissions distributed 46,601 bigha land (approximately 300,000 ropani land) to 1,053,000 families of landless people. A commission was formed for the 12th time in 2015 to address the problem. A total of 861,000 families filed petition claiming to be landless. The government has not scrutinised those applications yet. That commission could not proceed with its work as the Supreme Court stayed the commission’s work. In 2016, the government formed a Systematic Settlement Commission and the next year the government dissolved it. We have brought the Land (Eighth Amendment) Bill to solve all these problems.

How do you plan to achieve other goals of land management?

It’s a big challenge. Unless we manage land properly, we cannot develop our nation. Those countries that successfully managed their land leapt into overall development and those countries that failed, lagged behind. As far as land management is concerned, things have gone from bad to worse in our country.  We have approximately 300 million population, but we have more than 3000 million land plots. We have brought the land use bill to bring changes in the land plot rules. We have proposed that land plots will be split only on the ground of planning permits. The second thing we have proposed is categorisation of land whereby people can use land only for the specified purpose.

This means we will categorise land into multiple sectors such as agriculture, housing, river, industrial area, forest area, religious sites and cultural areas.

People will have to use those land plots as per the categorisation.

The government is pursuing a policy of making maximum use of agriculture land without allowing people to leave those land plots barren. The government will carry out programmes to encourage people to optimally use agriculture land.  People will be encouraged to go for land pooling and collective farming and to open industries. The government will also encourage land bank.

This process will enable the government to lease land plots of those people who do not want to till their land themselves. The government will use those land plots by forming cooperatives.

How are you trying to use modern technology to deliver service?

This is not a development ministry, but a ministry that is primarily responsible for delivering service to the public.

We are trying to use modern technology to effectively deliver service.

We are also trying to revolutionise technology used to measure land areas. We are replacing ribbon measuring method with digital measuring system. This method will help us accurately measure even sloping land plots. At present you may have heard that somebody is tilling their land at one place but in the map their land plots have been placed somewhere else.

This will not be the case when we fully digitise the method of measurement. Digital measuring will accurately measure land areas even on sloping terrain. All the current discrepancies in the existing system of measurement will end.

When are you going to introduce this system?

We have already started this system. The next system I would like to talk about is GPS -based measurement. This system records the shaking of land. If GPS technology is set up across the country in around 100 to 150 places, it could help identify vulnerable areas. This is the system that we recently used to measure Mount Everest. We put one GPS at the top of the tallest peak and six GPS in different areas around the peak.

Lidar technology shows the vulnerability of land. This technology will measure land area across the country and determine which areas are vulnerable. In the past, people would use around 10 million rupees to know whether or not an area where they wanted to set up an industry was sound for industrial purposes. If we use lidar technology we will know which areas are vulnerable and industries will not have to spend huge amounts to know this. We will use this technology in one of the seven provinces this year.

Do you think some people have concealed excess land? If yes, what will you do to reclaim it?

We are not reducing or changing the land ceiling. In fact, there is no problem in the hills as far as excess land is concerned, but in the Tarai there is some problem. People say that in the Tarai region people have concealed their excess land by exploiting legal loopholes. We are going to find out if anybody has concealed excess land. We are going to issue a public notice for the last time. Our technology will help us know from our office how much land an individual possesses and in how many places of the country. This means if any individual has purchased any land plot prior to the issuance of our public notice or after its issuance, that will be shown in the record. This will help us identify excess land.

Freed Haliya and Kamaiya (bonded labourers) haven’t got a good deal yet. What are you doing to address their problems?

The government started to address the problems of freed haliya and kamaiya 13 years ago. We were working to end their woes in the last fiscal. In one year, we achieved things that we had not achieved in the last 13 years. The government has managed enough funds to rehabilitate freed haliyas and kamaiyas. We realised that rehabilitation work may not be done effectively only through land revenue offices, so we decided to use local governments as well. We wanted to distribute money to them, but since all the amounts were not distributed to the freed haliya and kamaiya, some amount was returned to the federal government’s coffers. Some people could not get the fund meant for them. This year, we do not have money for freed haliya and kamaiya under the relevant column of the budget. We are moving ahead to finish their rehabilitation soon.

Some freed haliya and kamaiya have said that they got land plots but could not cultivate those plots because there was no irrigation system.

I have also visited some freed haliya and kamaiyas’ houses and I know they face multiple problems. I think past governments should have thought about these problems before rehabilitating them. I think it’s better to have new programmes to bring significant changes in their lives rather than changing the old policies.

Recently there was a media report that the ruling Nepal Communist Party’s office is housed on government land. What do you have to say?

That land belongs to Pasang Lhamu Mountaineering Foundation which had won the right to use the land in 2006 under usufruct provision. The government owns the land.

A new lease policy was launched in 2015. The government urged all organisations to abide by the new lease policy following which some organisations signed lease agreements, but some did not. Pasang Lhamu Mountaineering Foundation has also not signed the lease agreement. We have repeatedly issued public notice and are planning to issue a public notice for the last time. Those organisations that sign lease agreement with the government will stay, otherwise they will not be allowed to use government land any more.

As far as NCP’s office is concerned, we all know that its Balkhu-based head office was destroyed by the 2015 earthquakes. While searching for appropriate land for the party’s central office, the party found a piece of land at Dhumbarahi and after talking to people responsible for managing the Pasang Lhamu Mountaineering Foundation, the party decided to shift there. The NCP did not see if the land belonged to the government or it was leased land or private land. NCP rented the place for three years with the objective of completing the construction of its party office in three years. The party has not claimed ownership of the land. Neither has it occupied the land for good. Now the ruling NCP will find an alternative.

Till now, 854 bigha land has been given under lease or usufruct policy. A total of 351 government and non-governmental organisations have used this land.

What is your ministry doing to book those responsible for misusing Baluwatar land?

I have said a lot about this controversy. The Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority, Central Bureau of Investigation and my ministry are investigating the case. I think the results will soon come out.

Does the government have record of government land across the country?

In the Tarai, the government has 2,959,582 bigha land and in the hills the government owns 24,722,797 ropani land. This land is in inhabited area, but the government is yet to collect the actual data.

How is your ministry identifying poor families?

We identified poor families in 26 districts in the past, but many people opposed the process saying they were left out. We are making it mandatory for our enumerators and supervisors to reach every household to determine poor families. We have developed a software that will not accept data if our staff collect it without visiting targeted families. Our staff will have to take pictures of the targeted families. We can also distinguish whether our staff took those pictures at the targeted families’ houses or somewhere else. This process will help us identify the real poor families and nobody can misuse the system. We will finish this project within this year and then launch programmes aimed at uplifting the economic status of poor families.