Consolidation against commoners
after the abolition of the zamindari system in Uttar Pradesh in 1954, land consolidation has been one of the mammoth administrative exercises conducted to put in place land reforms. Begun in the early sixties, its main objective was to consolidate the small agricultural plots into one or two large holdings, besides the 'sufficient land' earmarked for building approach roads, village streets and pavements. The overall land-use system changed remarkably as maximum village land was brought under one or two uses.
However, land consolidation soon turned out to be the bane of the common people. The landless poor and agricultural labourers, who were largely dependent on common resources for sustenance, began facing problems. Most villages witnessed a phenomenal change in land-use and cropping pattern on the one hand and rapid increase in the foodgrain production, on the other.
A number of studies on the impact of consolidation on rural land-use systems conducted by the department of geography, Banaras Hindu University show that about 60 to 90 per cent of the common land in every village was converted into cultivable land and distributed to landholders through the mechanism of land consolidation. The common resources became individual property at the cost of the large number of the poor and caste specific communities. The landless and small landholders of even higher caste communities were hardly benefited from the land reform practices adopted by the state Land Consolidation Department.
Only 10 to 15 per cent of the common land remained intact after the consolidation. Even the village panchayats failed to adopt proper measures to manage these resources. Rather, the powerful groups and individuals in the village share a maximum of the common benefits.
Consolidation has had a very deep impact on the rural ecology and socio-economic stratification across the villages. While a significant population group was denied any kind of rights on the common resource properties, a large segment of rural artisans found themselves unable to sustain their traditional occupations. Washermen (d hobis ), potters ( kumbhakars ), gardeners ( malis ), shepherds ( gaderi ), woodcutters ( musher ), fishermen ( khatik and mallah ) among others were sustaining their parental occupations only because they had a share in the commonland and water around the villages. These rural-based occupations are fast disappearing in thousands of villages where the common resources have been depleted after consolidation.
The women of the villages, including, to some extent, the higher caste ones, are the most vulnerable section facing the multiple problems arising out of the shrinking common resources. As the common sources of fuel are depleting fast they are finding it increasingly difficult to collect sufficient fuelwood for the whole year. At the same time the conversion of common grazing fields into cropping land has brought about a decline in the average number of animals reared per household.
The shortfall in the average household's energy requirement for the year cannot be filled by other sources of bio-energy collected from cultivated crops. In spite of the manifold increase in agricultural output, the usable biomass for household fuel remained almost the same. The dwarf varities of rice and wheat - the main high yielding variety crops under the Green Revolution - do not yield as much biomass as the traditional varieties. Besides, access to lpg , electricity, kerosene oil and coal is denied to the rural householder. The future of rural sanitation is very similar. Land conversion ensured the rural folk now have to go further to carry out toilet functions.
The race to occupy common resources, especially land, has increased inter and intra caste disputes and most of the violence is targeted against the poorer sections of society. The upper caste consolidation has led to several land-grabbing cases against the landless and agricultural labourers who are supposed to be the real beneficiaries under the bottom-up philosophy of rural development.
The author is a lecturer at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Deonar, Mumbai