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October 3, 2004

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Necessity of changes in laws dealing with land erosion by rivers

Md. Abdul Kader

Land law is one of the most neglected legal sectors in our country. For the lack of proper land distribution system the number of landless people is increasing. Every year so many people lose their land for various reasons especially due to the erosion caused by rivers. So the laws relating alluvion-diluvion have a strong implication in our land management. If existing char lands of the country could be distributed among the landless then the problems related to land can be solved to some extent.

Char area
According to ISPAN (Irrigation Support Project for Asia & Near-east)in their publication 'Riverine Chars in Bangladesh' in 2000, Bangladesh has around 1722.89 sq.km. of Charland on her 05 major rivers which is equal to the district like Natore. Besides, there is lots of chars on minor rivers of the country. If the charland can be distributed properly among the landless poor by taking those in khas account, it can contribute significantly to the alleviation of poverty in the remotest areas of Bangladesh. But major causes to failure the distribution of Khas land among landless and other poor people are:
*Negative impacts of unjust land laws and land policies especially Alluvion-Diluvion laws
*Problems regarding land survey and settlement
*Negative impacts of local administrative actions
*Discrepancy in political will of the political parties

Char life: A turbulent battle field
As there are no pro-landless laws and sympathetic administration in the char areas, a kind of anarchism is prevailing in these areas. Oppression, torture and false cases against landless are a regular and common phenomenon in the char areas. But most alarming situation is that people of most of the char areas are out of every kind of state provided facilities like education, health, communication so on and so forth. Other remarkable socio-economic discrepancy faced by the charland people are:
*Acute shortage of safe drinking water
*Lack of proper sanitation
*Oppression of jotdars (land grabber) and their hooligans
*Exploitation by money lenders
*Violence against women including sexual oppression
*Religious fundamentalism

On the other hand, a relationship has allegedly been developed among land and police administration and local land grabber elite of the char areas which has also contributed to making life difficult for charland poor people.
If we observe Alluvion and Diluvion land laws carefully, than we will see that this law somehow serve the purpose of land grabbers to some extent.

Alluvion-Diluvion Laws
From the history of alluvion-diluvion Laws EBSATA -1951, Alluvion-Diluvion Land Laws: 1972 and Alluvion and Diluvion Land Laws: 1994 are most important in this regard.
The East Bengal State Acquisition and Tenancy Act (EBSATA) of 1950 offered that if land is lost due to river erosion, it can be given back to the original owner but under the following conditions:
a. the resurfacing of the land must occur within 20 years.
b. The owner may get the land back by paying rent as settled by the revenue officer; and
c. The original owner must not posses land upward of 375 bighas.
The act was mainly restoring the rights of owner whose land was eroded. It also provided that such restoration must take place within 20 years.

Alluvion and Diluvion Land Laws: After the independence of Bangladesh the approach was people-oriented, especially with regards to landless peasants. The President's Order No. 135, aimed to rehabilitate the landless was promulgated in 1972. P.O. 135 changed few sections of EBSADA 1951 as:

a. Previous owner will lose his/her ownership on diluvion land and s/he has not to pay revenue for the land.
b. All new lands in the form of accretion or reformation after alluvion would vest in the government. Government would lease out such lands among the landless.
c. Preference was to be given to families affected by diluvion but families with land exceeding 25 bighas were to be excluded.
d. The total quantity of land held by such a person or his family before loss by diluvion, whichever is less.
It may be noted that the highest ceiling of land ownership was redefined as the 100 bighas on August 15, 1972.
Alluvion and Diluvion Land Laws (P.O. Order No 15/1994-13th July): The Alluvion and Diluvion Land Laws was again changed in 1994 by the P.O. Order No. 15/1994-13th July. According to the P.O. :

a. If any land becomes alluvion, owner of that land has not to pay revenue for the alluvion land or for whole land
b. The land owner has to apply for exemption of revenue and collect receipt
c. If the diluvion land becomes alluvion again within 30 years, owner of that land or his/her heir can claim the ownership of that land. Receipt of revenue exemption has to be submitted as a proof.
d. Total land of the owner cannot cross the highest ceiling. It may be noted that, highest ceiling of land was 60 bighas in 1984
e. If the char is formed artificially and not naturally, government will enjoy absolute ownership of the land
f. No case can be filed at the court on alluvion land after 12 months of public notice by collector regarding possession of the land
g. Collector will hand over the land to the owner or his/her heir within 45 days since the preparation of the map
h. If a char is emerged from river or sea, government will possess the land if there was no owner of the land ever before

Problems of existing laws
Government cannot take absolute possession of new chars. Laws seem barrier in this respect.
a. There is always a chance of tampering of documents during determining ownership of char.
b. Increasing trend of preparing fake deeds and documents
c. Ceiling of land is not properly justified as all lands are not in one document. As a result, it has been easier for jotdars to take possession of these lands
d. Jotdars have a scope to establish themselves in char owing to their claims relating inheritance

Why real owners could not get their diluvion land
a. Local land offices in the respective areas do not survey and submit report after land alluvion and diluvion
b. Problems regarding identifying and redefining of newly alluvion land
c. Lack of scope to preserve dalils (deed) and receipt of paid revenue after alluvion of land
d. Lack of support from land and general administration
e. Lack of proper implementation of ceiling law
f. Land owners of the erosion-prone areas who are used to stay in the town usually face problems in getting possession of their land when they come back and want possession of the land after a long gap

Distribution of khas land: Expected outcome
Bangladesh has several million acres of char land. Char land is very fertile for agricultural production. So, if these lands can be distributed among the landless poor, each and every piece of these lands will be properly utilised. Besides, it will contribute to reduce anarchism and dispute which has been existing in the char areas for centuries. In consequence of this, law and order will be established in the char areas and practice of good governance and democracy will be ensured.

Economic feasibility
If charlands are distributed among real landless poor, it will create enormous employment opportunities. Middle size peasant families can mange their food all round the year from allotted land. Moreover, it can solve the housing problem.

Social feasibility
Distribution of char lands among the landless can contribute to reduce rural-urban migration. When landless poor will possess a piece of land, her/his family status will increase in the society. His/her personal status will be recognised. S/he can actively participate in different social programmes including shalis.

Democratic and political feasibility
Local government will be strengthened in char areas. By this full utilisation of local resources will be ensured. Moreover, char based people will be able to establish their voting rights and will be able to exchange their opinion in different foram.

Feasibility in poverty alleviation
According to the gazette of Bangladesh government published on May 8, 1997, husband and wife of a real landless family will jointly receive 1.5 acres of khas land. Overall rehabilitation of 430 families i.e. 2322 persons is possible in 01 square mile. Average number of members per family in Bangladesh is 5.4. Total chars in 05 large rivers of Bangladesh are 1722.89 square kilometres, that means approximately 672 square miles. So it is possible to permanently rehabilitate 28960 families i.e. 1560384 landless poor on 672 square miles.

We think reconsideration of the existing alluvion and diluvion land laws (1994) and necessary in that context can contribute significantly in the development of socio-economic and political aspect of the charland. If the landless poor can establish their rights on khas land of the char areas, its impact will be revolutionary in the effort for poverty alleviation in the country.

The author is Executive Director, SAMATA.

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