Odisha has almost no land left for the landless poor — nearly 4.50 lakh families in all.
The government has more or less exhausted all ceiling surplus land at its disposal after distributing them to more than 1.40 lakh landless families in the state, mostly from scheduled tribes and scheduled castes, reveals a response to questions filed under the right to information act by this reporter.
“A total of 1,57,415 acres of ceiling surplus land have been distributed to landless so far in all 30 districts of Odisha. Available ceiling surplus land for distribution is 91.55 acres,” said S Mohapatra, the public information officer with the state’s revenue board.
He said more than 10,000 acres of such land are locked in litigation of which 2,300 acres are considered unfit for agriculture and 6,300 acres are kept aside for miscellaneous reasons.
Odisha enacted the land ceiling act in 1974, acquiring surplus plots of big landowners with an aim to redistribute it among the landless.
It was regarded a revolutionary step as land distribution in Odisha was extremely skewed at the time of Independence with 53% of plots were held by just 7% landowners. Policy-makers felt ceiling on landholding was urgent to deliver justice and economic empowerment to the poor.
But, over the years, landless people in Kendrapara district got just 234 acres while 23,841 acres, the highest, were distributed in Rayagada district. Land distributed to families in backward Maoist-affected tribal districts like Malkangiri and Kandhamal was also quite low at 289 acres and 506 acres respectively.
State land reforms commissioner NK Sundaray said the government has distributed whatever ceiling surplus land it had collected over the years. “The state has 96% achievement in distributing land to scheduled caste and scheduled tribes, which is among the best in the country.”
But a large chunk of beneficiaries have not been able to make use of the land because of lack of actual physical possession and unsuitability of the land for cultivation.
“I got the record of right for a two-acre land in 1985 but have not been able to cultivate because the land is still in the possession of the previous landlord. The matter is now pending in court,” said Budek Sabara, a tribal from Bargarh district.
Revenue officials said the act was implemented in the right spirit for a few years after its enactment but lost steam thereafter. “The implementation process for ceiling surplus land is almost dead for the past two decades,” said a senior official.
Besides, after the government focused on industrial development, giving land for business houses became a priority.