New Delhi, Sept. 18: Half the 48 lakh acres donated by rich landowners during Vinoba Bhave’s 1950s Bhoodan movement remain undistributed among the landless poor half a century on, a survey has found.
Land experts attribute the scandal largely to the donors’ descendants having reoccupied the plots, taking advantage of the state governments’ failure to distribute them among the targeted population.
Revenue ministers from all the states will meet here on Thursday to decide how to locate and retrieve the undistributed Bhoodan plots, scattered across the states.
Bhave had marched across the country to launch the voluntary land donation movement for the benefit of the landless, who were to build dwellings on the donated plots for themselves.
But of the 4,763,566 acres donated, only 2,444,112 acres have been distributed while 2,319,454 acres have not, shows a survey by the Bhoodan Gramdan Samiti, an arm of the Sarva Seva Sangh at Sevagram in Wardha, Maharashtra, which Bhave headed. (See chart)
Jharkhand is the worst case, with an undistributed Bhoodan land bank of 9.8 lakh acres. The Bihar Bhoodan Act is in force in Jharkhand, which was carved out of Bihar 12 years ago, but apparently no special attention is being given to the undistributed land.
Almost all the states had passed their own Bhoodan Acts and set up Bhoodan boards that were to distribute the donated land. However, these boards largely became defunct by 1980. For example, the Bengal Assembly passed a Bhoodan Act in 1962 while the state’s Bhoodan board functioned till 1977.
“The donated land may have been reclaimed by the donors,” said Walter Fernandes, an expert on displacement and land issues. He said many donors may have reoccupied the plots before the records of rights were transferred to the Bhoodan boards.
The Sarva Seva Sangh, which spearheaded the Bhoodan movement, has set up a nine-member committee to pressure the state governments into retrieving and distributing the undistributed plots.
P.V. Rajagopal, a member of the committee and president of the Ekata Parishad, an organisation working on land issues, said the states had failed to transfer many of the plots from the donors to the Bhoodan boards.
“This failure on the governments’ part is now creating problems. The children of the donors are now claiming the land, or in many cases are occupying the land, because the government records are in their favour,” he said.
Rajagopal said the states had not provided enough financial resources to the Bhoodan boards to employ adequate staff to complete the process of redistribution.
In many cases, even land that has been allotted to the landless continues to remain in the hands of powerful people, with the government unable to hand possession over to the allottees, he said.
“Many Sarvodaya workers failed to pursue the Bhoodan movement with the commitment needed. Many were more interested in the charismatic leadership of Vinoba and less in the task at hand (monitoring the distribution by the Bhoodan boards),” Rajagopal said.
The Sarva Seva Sangh has sought the intervention of Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh. It has demanded the matter be discussed at the National Development Council and the states be asked to allot the undistributed land to needy people.
“We have convened a meeting of the state revenue ministers to decide on possible action,” Ramesh said.