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Homestead land rights on table

New Delhi: The NDA government has agreed to discuss people's right to homestead land, three years after abandoning a move by its UPA predecessor to provide homestead land to the landless.

The rural development ministry's department of land resources will hold a meeting with five states on Tuesday to discuss issues such as tenancy reforms and the right to homestead land.

Senior officials from Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala will attend the meeting at Thiruvananthapuram. The Ekta Parishad, an NGO demanding a law to ensure every landless family gets homestead land, has been invited too.

Former National Advisory Council member N.C. Saxena said the initiative was a "political stunt" ahead of the general election.

"Many people have encroached on public land. The land laws in every state are different. The government should have taken the issue up earlier," he said.

Kanchi Kohli of the Centre for Policy Research, a think-tank, said the NDA government's track record on land issues had been pro-commercial-development.

"This government tried to amend the land acquisition law. Its approach on land issues shows it wants to extract land and direct it towards commercial development for the ease of business," Kohli said.

Ekta Parishad spokesperson Anees, though, said: "I think it's a positive initiative. I hope some meaningful outcome will emerge."

The Ekta Parishad had held a march from Palwal to Delhi in 2015 for the right to homestead land. It is planning a similar march in October.

Land is a state subject. State governments have carried out several land reforms such as imposing a ceiling on landholdings, or distributing land for farming or to build homes.

About eight million rural households, however, have no land or house of their own. Most of the landless belong to Dalit and other backward communities.

A committee appointed by then President of India K.R. Narayanan had looked into the availability of government land and recommended the distribution of farmland and homestead land among the landless.

The UPA government had assured the Ekta Parishad it would bring in a law to ensure every family got at least 10 cents of homestead land. Although land is a state subject, the bill was being considered under the right to life provision in the Constitution.

The NDA government later junked the proposal. In 2015, the department of land resources transferred the matter to the rural development ministry's rural housing division, which runs the Indira Awas Yojana. Nothing was done after that.

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