The farmers from Nashik district of Maharashtra have been demanding that the government should recognise their legal rights over the land they till. One of their demands shows why it is now time to reinstate the right to property as a fundamental constitutional right.
Why did the demand arise?
The Forest Rights Act of 2006 seeks to correct a historical wrong cemented during the colonial era. The lack of land rights has ensured that generations of tribal cultivators have got a raw deal from governments as well as banks. Hence the demand for property rights from the marching farmers.
- The Indian Constitution originally recognised the right to property as a fundamental right. The right came under attack beginning with the first amendment in 1951.
- The Morarji Desai government eventually scrapped the fundamental right to property with the forty-fourth amendment in 1978.
- In its place came Article 300-A that makes it possible for a citizen to be dispossessed without compensation through an act of legislation.
Arguments made against right to property –
- Successive governments chipped away at the right to property by arguing that it was an obstacle in the way of pursuing the social justice agenda embedded in the directive principles of state policy.
- Farm land was very unequally divided when India became an independent country because of the colonial institution of zamindari. The estates kept growing in size as indebted peasants were dispossessed after loan defaults.
- During the time of its removal it was argued that the poor had little stake in property rights; in fact, property rights were an obstacle in the battle against mass poverty.
Arguments in favour of right to property –
It is the poor who have the biggest reason to cheer a reinstated fundamental right to property. There are two reasons for this.
- First, the poor have neither the legal resources nor the political heft to fight laws or administrative orders that allow governments take over their land.
- Second, the poor do not have enough opportunities to make a living in formal jobs in case they are forcibly separated from their property.
- The security of property provides incentives for a small farmer to invest in his land or a slum dweller to spend on basic infrastructure.
- The Peruvian economist Hernando De Soto has also shown how secure property rights allow the poor to raise capital by offering the property as collateral to formal lenders.
A local experiment –
The Odisha state government has recently begun offering formal property rights to slum dwellers.
Sharad Joshi (UPSC aspirants should remember his name for any question on land reforms) of the Shetkari Sanghatana argued on the one hand that property rights should also mean the freedom to sell farm land to the highest bidder; and he said on the other hand that women need to be equal partners in property. His message needs to enter the mainstream of Indian policy discourse. After all, property rights today are a tool of inclusion rather than exclusion.
Source – Livemint
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