New bill amending Land Act will distribute land to squatters for the ‘last time’The government has, through numerous commissions, handed over thousands of bighas of land to 150,000 families since 1990.
The Parliamentary Committee on Land, Cooperatives and Natural Resources has finalised a bill amending the Land Act, which, if endorsed by the federal parliament, will open doors for the government to distribute land to squatters for the 13th time since the restoration of democracy in 1990.
The amendment bill, which is likely to get parliamentary approval within a week, envisions providing land to landless squatters in the locations they’ve been residing in for over a decade—for the last time. Records at the Ministry of Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation show that 12 committees have been formed in the last three decades to resolve the problems of squatters. Over the years, the panels have distributed thousands of acres of land to thousands of families, but squatters continue to remain.
The first attempt to resolve the problem of landless squatters was in 1990, when the Krishna Prasad Bhattarai-led government formed the first commission. But before the commission could even begin work, a new government was formed.
Janak Raj Joshi, spokesperson at the Ministry of Land Management, told the Post that around 47,000 bighas of land (nearly 18,800 acres) have so far been distributed to around 150,000 families from different parts of the country.
With the new law, officials say the government wants to form yet another commission that will recommend another distribution of land. Purna Kumari Subedi, chairperson of the House committee, told the Post that they felt it was necessary to distribute land to resolve the problem once and for all.
“The commission, after proper consultation with the three tiers of government, will select households eligible to receive land,” said Subedi.
Unlike in the past, Joshi said that a separate clause has been introduced in the act this time around to provide the commission with a strong legal base.
“The commission that will be formed will have more authority than previous ones,” Joshi said. “The government wants the existing problem to end permanently.”
During the discussion over the bill in the House Committee, all cross-party leaders were convinced that the distribution of land is necessary because thousands of families are still without land. Subedi said a provision to allocate land to squatters wherever they are residing has been in place for over a decade. But the government continues to relocate them, especially if they live in risky areas like on river banks or in forests and other government lands.
In Kathmandu alone, hundreds of squatters have been living along riverbanks for decades.
“The first priority should be in allocating the lands confiscated from individuals or companies that have more land than the government ceiling,” Subedi told the Post.
According to the bill, though the recommendation will be made by the commission, the authority to allocate the land will be given to local governments. Lawmakers believe that providing land to squatters could permanently end the problem of landlessness, but others who are familiar with the previous commissions say the very idea that everyone must possess land is wrong.
“We have to ask why the squatter problem hasn’t been resolved, despite distributing so much of land in the past?” said Gopal Dahit, chairman of one of the commissions formed in 2017.
For Dahit, the government’s priority should be in creating job opportunities or other income generation opportunities, instead of distributing land.
“Distribution of land is not the solution,” he said. “If squatters get opportunities to earn an income, they will manage their residences on their own.”