Radical land reforms are called for if the lot of the toiling peasants and workers, who keep the country and society going, is to be improved.
This was the consensus of the Provincial Consultation on Land Reforms held under the aegis of the Pakistan Mazdoor-Kissan Tehrik, and the Roots for Equity, at a local hotel.
The consultative seminar featured participants from the remote corners of Sindh, many of them being the victims of feudal machinations, members of civil society, and NGOs.
Azra Talat Syed talked of the land reforms in the wake of the official census figures and said that Pakistan had a total cultivated area of 47,575.3 acres and said in the light of these statistics, we have to come to the conclusion 50 percent of the arable area belonged to 4 percent of the population. She said that this inequitable distribution of land could be traced to the British rule whereby the British gave out land as bounty to those who’d help in perpetuating British stranglehold over the sub-continent. She said that since before and after independence, the interests of the imperialist powers had been strengthened in the agricultural policies framed by the successive governments. As a result of this inequitable balance of power she said, a class-based society had emerged in Pakistan which had given rise to a whole lot of social evils and multiplied the privations of the have-nots.
She said Bhutto’s reforms did not benefit the peasants an iota either. While in Ayub’s land reforms, the peasants had to buy the land, in the case of Bhutto’s reforms, land was given away free, with the ceiling being 150 acres for irrigated, and 300 acres for “Barani” land. However, the big feudals and landlords who were all close to the Bhutto family, retained the deed papers and the farmer’s identity documents and just refused to surrender them on some excuse or the other and duped the illiterate farmers with the kind of palliatives feudals and capitalists employ to achieve nefarious ends.
The most alarming thing is the Corporate Farming Ordinance Pervez Musharraf signed under the provision of which the government of Pakistan has ceded away thousands of acres to foreign countries and conglomerates.
A social activist Ali Nawaz Chandio, disclosed that a provincial minister had ceded away a major portion of his 3,200 acres to a foreign company in MirpurKhas. Navin Hyder conducted the proceedings and imparted valuable information pertaining to the land reforms.
Noted economist and academic, Shahida Wizarat, said that the corporate farming bill would reduce the peasants to the position of Red Indians in the US or the Australian aborigines.
At the end, the seminar came up with certain recommendations:
i)We have to come up with genuine economic reforms which take into consideration the genuine interests of the toiling peasants who are really responsible for giving us the food we all eat keep the society and the country going.
ii)There should be equal representation of the toiling peasants in the policy formulation of agrarian policies.
iii)There is a need for strengthening opposition to the evils of corporate farming and free market agriculture and peasants be mobilized to nip this evil in the bud. A detailed survey of affected areas and people be carried out immediately.
iv)All small farmers be provided equal access to inputs like land, water, and seeds, to attain food autarky
v)Abiding by the rules for sustainable agriculture we have to give equal consideration to the environmental factors like the environmental conditions which includes afforestation and provision of healthy nutritional food to all and sundry.
vi)Just and equitable policies be framed to safeguard the interests of rural women, including protecting their right to ownership of land and discriminatory attitudes towards them be given up.
vii) There should be an iron-jacketed mechanism for the peasant to retain hold over his land including the aspect of smooth inheritance by his heirs.
viii)Capitalists must not be allowed to control the market conditions.
ix) Elitism like privileged education for a certain segment of society be eliminated as it promotes snobbery and discrimination in society.
x)Land be retrieved from illegal land holders.