Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Jul 12:
In connection with the recent circular by the Odisha government, eminent members from academia, media and practitioners, working on women’s issues in the state, organised a consultation here on Saturday and deliberated on government’s move for creating a list of the landless and suggested that it should be ensured that single women should also be covered during the process.
The circular has ordered identification of the homestead less families by August 10 and allot land to them by October.
The state government has announced the Odisha State Policy for Girls and Women, 2014 which prescribes for the identification of vulnerable women especially single women and prioritizing them under housing and land ownership programmes. The Constitution guarantees equal rights to women. In Odisha, laws like the Odisha Government Land Settlement Act, 1962, Odisha Prevention of Land Encroachment Act, 1972, along with land allocation scheme called Vasundhara (2005 -06) have introduced specific provisions to allocate land to the landless.
In 2002, the state government, in order to give preference to widows, unmarried women, and women living below poverty line, decided that at least 40% of ceiling surplus land earmarked for distribution to be allotted to women. During such distribution, the government also stressed that at least 40% land should be allotted to women belonging to the Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes, disadvantaged groups that comprise large sections of the poor. Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act 1956/2005 gives women in all the states parity with men in landed property but the reality is contrasting.
But as per the recently released Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) 2011, there are 10.6 lakh women headed households out of which 43 35 percent derive a major part of their income from manual causal labour. According to SECC, the state also has a very high percentage of rural households having monthly income earnings less than Rs 5000.
The report indicates the prevalence of 36.19 percent of landless households who derive major part of their income from manual casual labour higher than the national average of 29.97 per cent.
“While there is a provision as per the Policy and the circular provides an opportunity for identification of single women, the timeframe appears to be the major bottleneck in this exercise. “The circular mentions August 10 for completion of the enumeration process which hardly gives any time for local revenue officials to carry out a proper process”, said Pranab Choudhury, Director, NR Management Consultants India Pvt Ltd (NRMC)
About 5.42 lakh families have been allotted homestead plots by the state government and lakhs of poor landless families have received small plots of land through government initiative in the past decade. With the government raising the annual income level to Rs. 40,000 a statewide enumeration to identify homestead less families. This creates an opportunity for more people including single women to fall under the eligibility criteria for getting land from the government.
In April 2013, a programme was launched by the government engaging village youths who worked in tandem with the Revenue officials in identifying the landless families in the villages leading to distribution of about 18,000 pattas. But still SECC data says that over 46.61 lakh households (54%) are still without land.
“Government officials are overwhelmed with the kind of work and limited orientation about women’s land rights”, opined the women activists present. They also said that lack of a clear guideline and an executive order regarding inclusion of single women in the enumeration is another major hurdle in ensuring identification of single women in the current exercise.
It is important that a political, social movement along with the active participation from the bureaucracy. Though it is a challenging task to allot land for single women, provisions needs to be created for the action to be initiated, said the experts.
“Law doesn’t bar from giving land to women, but traditional practices limits the scope of single women to access land rights”, said Prof Padmaja Mishra, OSD Rama Devi Women’s University on the occasion.
It is an opportune time to make amends to the historical and unjust practice and recognise the rights of women to provide them with a justified ownership over homestead land and link them with Biju Awas Yojana, she added.
Dr Amrita Patel, Project Advisor, SRCW, opined that the present exercise should be carried in accordance to the spirit of the state’s girls and women’s Policy.
State director, Landesa, Sibabrata Choudhury said the format enclosed in the circular should be comprehensive enough to capture single women as a category.
On the occasion, experts including Shri Aurobindo Behera, Manipadma Jena eminent media representative, noted academicians from Utkal Univarsity, FES, Vasundhara, lawyers, media participated and actively contributed in the consultation and suggested that the government should immediately announce an executive order on inclusion of single women, and use community youths for the enumeration exercise to ensure a transparent and more accurate enumeration exercise. Involvement of PRI members to strengthen the process and make it robust.
The consultation was facilitated by Landesa Odisha.