These days, frequent reports on the decline of agricultural land in various dailies and online portals show the growing concern. Almost all published reports blame overpopulation as the reason and focus only on this, leaving behind important issues like special land, land reform, redistribution etc. Land reform is one of the most important conditions for the reduction of agricultural land and the capitalist transformation of agriculture. Not only that, but its role is immense in the rapid increase in the number of landless farmers or agricultural labourers. In 1971, landless agricultural laborers were twenty-three percent. In fifty years it has increased to more than seventy-eight percent. Agriculture is said to be the backbone of the nation’s economy, this picture of the farmer is undoubtedly terrible.
According to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics and Agriculture Department, the amount of agricultural land in the country is decreasing by sixty eight thousand seven hundred hectares every year. That is, at an average rate of one percent. Pointing to that population as the main reason. There is a deliberate attempt to hide some deeper truth behind this blaming of population growth. The first question – the population is increasing in which category? Certainly not among the upper and middle classes. Not even in the lower middle class.
They have limited their number of children by family planning long ago. Unplanned births continue to rise among the poor. Birth control has no effect on their lives. They are the main source of the upward rate of population growth. Are these landless floating people responsible for reducing one percent of arable land every year? Do they have the power to occupy so much land by making houses? You don’t need to be an expert to answer this question. Knowledge is enough. So let’s turn our attention away from the traditional excuse of population growth.
During the Pakistan period, the ‘East Bengal State Acquisition and Tenancy Act’ was enacted to abolish the zamindari system and the role of middlemen. It says that if a family has more than 100 bighas of arable land and more than ten bighas for residential purposes, it will be considered as ‘surplus’ and the surplus will be acquired by the state. The land thus acquired will be distributed by the state among actual farmers who own less than three acres of land per family. It sounds great, but in reality the large landowners transfer the surplus land to their family members and loyalists anonymously instead of giving it to the state. They did this on the basis of the weakness of the law.
This would have left very little land for the state to redistribute. Later in 1961, during the military regime, the maximum limit or ceiling of arable land was increased from one hundred bighas to three hundred and seventy five bighas. Although the interests of the large landowners were preserved, the amount of land redistributed was further reduced to one bigha or less per family, and it is particularly noteworthy that landless peasants were not included in the redistributed land list.
After independence in 1972, the President ordered the maximum amount of cultivated land to be reduced to 100 bighas per family and surplus land to be deposited with the state. In the list of redistribution, priority is now given to landless and poor agricultural families and people uprooted in river basins. But gradually, as various conditions of the President’s order were relaxed, the amount of surplus land accumulated in the hands of the state came down to less than five percent and needless to say, the landless farmers and the uprooted were on the priority list, in reality nothing much happened to them. Redistribution took place mainly among various opportunistic groups.
In this long process, in the nineteen eighties and nineties, institutions like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank turned their noses up and radically changed the course of land reform in Bangladesh. It is fair to say that attempts at state land reform have apparently died. According to them, redistributive land reform in Bangladesh is not possible now, because the population has increased but the amount of land has not increased. That is the beginning of the smoke of population growth. There is no disagreement that the population is increasing. But as I said earlier, it is purposefully made the main issue. The World Bank’s argument against redistributive land reform was that the number of landless was greater than the surplus that the state could generate. It cannot meet the minimum needs of every family.
If the land is less than this, they will sell it, or let others cultivate it for rent. It will defeat the main objective of land redistribution. They clearly avoided land grabs by powerful and opportunistic groups. The arguments that the World Bank recommended against land reform were that it was actually intended to keep the landless forever landless and open the door to corruption for the ruling class and their cronies. Their arguments are understandable. The arguments were as follows- one. There will be conflicts between the state and other classes with the big landowners if the surplus land is to be collected. Therefore, alternative measures should be taken to avoid such social conflicts.
Two. The use of new technologies known as ‘green revolution’ in agriculture will increase the production of all farmers, whether small or large. It will enable the small farmer to meet his livelihood needs due to high yield even on small land. That way he will not need additional land. Apart from that, the use of this new technology will increase the overall yield, and landless farmers will get more work as day laborers than before. So there is no need to go for complicated and conflicting path like land reform.
Three. If the small owner can rent as much land as he needs from the big landowner through lease or barga, there is no need for redistribution of ownership. Rather, it is more important to arrange proper land survey and registration to update ownership records and documents. This would stimulate the land rental market and achieve better than redistribution.
Needless to say, what has been done on the advice of the World Bank is not land reform, but market-based land management, in favor of which the tenant experts started campaigning in hundreds. Projects worth crores of rupees from foreign donor agencies come to local consultants and experts. As a result of giving special importance to computer and information technology as an alternative to reform, the activity and publicity of these experts was surprising, but nothing real work was done. To protect agricultural land, it is necessary to bring about capitalist transformation in agriculture. The state has to take active initiative for this.
In Asia, Japan and Taiwan introduced capitalist transformations in the agricultural sector through land reform and redistribution of land ownership. Capitalist transformation occurs in agriculture, when producers operate agriculture for capitalist profit. As capital expansion takes place through production, it is called productive capitalism. Land reform, especially redistributive land reform, has an important role in establishing productive capitalism in agriculture. In this, the state acquires the surplus from the big land owners after the ceiling fixed for them and distributes it among the landless and poor peasants. It increases the volume of production and the circulation of productive capital. This is what happened in Japan and Taiwan. But despite the bright potential of Bangladesh, this reform work has not been completed till date. It is unfortunate but true that this domination is mainly due to the occupation and domination of the powerful and influential circles, this occupation and domination is carried out under the patronage of the state.