Print Edition - 2014-10-07  |  Development

Landlessness: A GROWING MENACE

- Chahana Sigdel
Landlessness: A GROWING MENACE

Oct 6, 2014-Hari Maya Jimba is a mother of four who brought her children to Kathmandu from their village in Sindhuli a little over a decade ago in hopes of earning a good income to support her family and secure a decent living.

“I was earning 25 rupees working as a porter back in my village when someone told me that in Kathmandu I could earn as much as 500 rupees per day doing the same work,” said Jimba, a woman in her 40s.

While the amount of money she earned in Kathmandu increased just a little, her hardship magnified. Most of her years in Kathmandu have been spent in the squatter settlements along the floodplains of Bishnumati River in Thapathali.  There, the family struggles with basic necessities such as water, electricity and lack of proper sanitation. But Jimba says she does not want to go back to Sindhuli as she and her children have come to accept Kathmandu as their home.

“I would be content if I was provided with a small house somewhere in the outskirts of the valley,” she said.

In order to distribute land to the families like Jimba’s, the Landless Squatter Problem Resolution Commission formed to identify the landless settlers and address their issues had, in a 35-day public notice printed in all the major dailies, called on ‘genuine’ landless squatters and people living in unorganised settlements in 72 district across the country (except Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur) to report at the respective district offices of the commission. The period for registration is from October 12 until November 16. Jimba says she might not go back to Sindhuli to register as landless squatter because for her, Kathmandu is now her home.

The political and social landscape of Kathmandu has changed a lot since 1990, and a burgeoning problem is the rise in urban poverty and unorganised urban squatter settlements. Comprehensive data and analysis on slums, slum dwellers and squatters are unavailable, but experts say most number of urban squatters could be around half a million.  

 Squatters are dwellers who occupy an abandoned or unoccupied area of land that they do not own or have legal permission to use. Genuine landless squatters do not own land anywhere in the country.  Despite owning land elsewhere in the country, some  families are still residing on unoccupied areas of the city  illegally and, much like Jimba, prefer to live in that city than go back to their original home.

The government has in the last two decades maintained that resolving the issue of landlessness is one of their main priorities. However, an estimated one million people across the country are still believed to be landless (and thus effectively homeless).

“The problem of landlessness has been attracting the attention of governments and political parties, especially after the year 1990,” mentions senior leader of Nepali Congress Jaganath Acharya in his report titled “Land Reform in Nepal: Problems and Prospects 2008”, but nothing worthwhile has been achieved so far.

 “The issue of landlessness is involved with vote politics,” said political commentator Jhalak Subedi, adding that while a lot of leaders have promised to make the lives of ordinary Nepalis better, Nepal is yet to see any sustainable development in terms of dealing with the problem of landlessness.  “It is important to distinguish between those who are landless and those who aren’t” he said.  Some reports state that District Landless Problems Settlement Commissions either distribute land to political cadres or to fake landless people, who become landless in

order to gain the government land. Critics say not much progress has been seen in this regard, with the number of landless people increasing, despite the sporadic distribution of land.

People struggling with landlessness can be divided into two categories in Nepal. The first category consists of families depending on agriculture-based livelihoods who are mostly based in rural Nepal. The second category of squatters is non agriculture based and consists of marginalised communities such as ex Kamaiays and Haliyas. A majority of non-agriculture based squatters are based in urban cities, particularly the capital.

A 2005 study states that between 1985 and 2008, 17 smaller squatter settlements in the Kathmandu Valley had expanded in size and number to 40 settlements. Of these 40 squatter settlements, 24 are on the floodplain of rivers, while most of the remaining settlements are in areas that are prone to landslides.

For things to change, according to land rights activist Jagat Deuja, the National Land Use Policy 2012 needs to be properly implemented. The policy, which aims to work towards the scientific management of land, is not backed up by proper guidelines which could be a major setback in its effective implementation.

“Because of the lack of proper guidelines, the policy could not be properly implemented and this is a huge problem,” he said.

Deuja says special focus should be given on proper land zoning so that citizens living in dangerous areas can be evicted immediately.  According to the land use policy, land is divided into seven categories depending on its use: agriculture, residential, commercial, industrial, forest, public and other purposes.

However, Deuja says providing land is not enough and they should also focus on providing cheap housing for squatters who live well below the poverty line.

Published: 07-10-2014 09:18

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