Land reform is one of the areas which is directly linked with the amelioration of the conditions of the poor especially in countries like Pakistan that has a predominantly rural population. Land reform has been a provincial subject in Pakistan. Therefore, land reform status, legal provisions, and measures will differ from province to province. But in Pakistan, there is a marked uniformity except minor state or province specific variations because of a powerful central government.
Pakistan has an area of 310,403 square miles and has four provinces, namely, Baluchistan, North West Frontier Province, Punjab, and Sind.
In 1972, under the Martial Law Regulation, 1959, steps were taken to abolish jagirs or estates without compensation. As a result, 2.5 million acres of land were resumed and 2.3 million acres of land were distributed among only 183,371 tenants and small land owners. This area constituted only 4.5% to 5% of the total land in Pakistan.
The West Pakistan Land Commission found that the zamindars illegally changed land records in collusion with the revenue officials at the village level. The Land Reforms Regulation,1972, the first enacted Regulation by the Pakistan People’s Party government, prescribed a land ceiling of 150 acres of irrigated land and 300 acres of un -irrigated land or an area equal to 1500 PIUs.The ceiling limit itself was very high by any standard. The government resumed land without changing tenants and small owners, and redefined the contractual conditions between landlords and tenants including protection against eviction. This was the first positive step by law to protect the right of cultivation by the tenants-at –will i.e. share croppers who were cultivating lands of big zamindars on condition to share produce.
However, the land owners having big land holdings had the decision-making power in regard to selection of crops, use of inputs and such others. Even then, the sharecropper in Punjab and NWFP gets 60% share of the crop while in Sind they get 50%. The Act of 1972 provided that all tenants should be registered. No tenant or sharecropper can be evicted without his consent or unless he misuses his land. Personal cultivable, i.e., Khudkasht area is up to 50 acres. This can be termed as Magna Carta to protect the rights of bonafide sharecroppers in Pakistan. Its due implementation can bring a new dawn to the tenants-at-will in Pakistan. This type of tenure is already in vogue in the tribal areas of Baluchistan and the NWFP.
The Land Reforms Ordinance, 1977 reduced the ceiling to 100 acres of irrigated land or 200 acres of unirrigated land. It is two thirds of the ceiling prescribed by The Land Reforms Regulation, 1972. The new Ordinance also allowed compensation to land owners in the form of bonds equivalent to Rs. 30 per PIU. An additional area of 1.8 million acres was resumed under the 1977 Ordinance of which 0.9 million acres were distributed among 13,143 persons whereas the number of land allottees should have been in millions.
Inadequacy of land reforms in Pakistan
According to the census data for 1959, 1972, and 1980, land concentration as measured by the Gini Coefficient has remained unchanged over the years which were 0.62,0.55 and 0.54 respectively. The land ownership concentration
ratio varied from 0.64 in the 1950s to 0.55 in 1976.West Punjab is a land of peasant proprietors. There is a total of 13.5 lakh land owners in West Punjab. 9 lakh own land less than 5 acres, 11.3 lakh own land less than10 acres while 1.8 lakh own between 10 and 50 acres. In NWFP, 47% land is held by large land owners. 42% land is directly cultivated by land owners whereas tenants with occupancy rights i.e. sharecroppers cultivate 11% land. The excess land in the N.W.F.P. and Baluchistan is more restricted than in the other provinces. This is also because of joint operations of individual holdings by tribal communities.
In economic terms, about 73.6% of the Pakistani population is below the consumption level of $2 per day as per international standards. As per a report, the land records in Pakistan are not updated. The World Bank can assist Pakistan to update its land records like it has done for many other countries. Revenue courts are located at inconvenient places. The courts are dominated by judges from the landed class and critics opine that this can be the reason behind justice not flowing to the really affected people.
Lack of political will
Even the revenue bureaucracy is dominated by the personnel from the landed class. Therefore there is a deficit
of administrative will. Political will and administrative will are two sides of the same coin. Thus, there is no political
will to implement land reforms in Pakistan. Even Generals of the Pakistan Army are mostly from the landed classes in Pakistan.
Land reform: a way out to tackle extremism in Pakistan
The windfall capital inflows from remittances from foreign national infrastructural inflows from China or foreign assistance from allies or all three combined cannot solve Pakistan’s problems on a long term basis. Pakistan has to resort to structural reforms to reduce Pakistan’s dependence on foreign aid and make Pakistan a stable and prosperous country. Such reforms can provide a strong alternative to the Islamic narrative and will and can tackle religious extremism.
It is now well established that like in West Bengal, India and Bangladesh, small parcels of land transferred to the new owners coupled with institutional or bank crop finance have generally had a positive impact on the levels of productivity and generate employment. It is therefore, essential that a much lower ceiling limit should be prescribed in Pakistan. Excess land even as per existing laws, regulations and ordinances should be resumed or vested by the government on payment of compensation with 4% interest. The excess or surplus ceiling land or resumed land need to be distributed in a democratic decentralized manner by involving local semi-government bodies like panchayats in India to the landless agriculture workers, sharecroppers or tenants. Land titles granted to fictitious tenants or ex-soldiers if not cultivated by him, should be resumed and a Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act should be passed and implemented. Revenue Courts should be located at convenient locations so that they can deliver at the doorstep. All tenants or sharecroppers as provided in the Act of 1972, should be entered into Khata/Khasra or be registered. No tenant or sharecropper should be evicted without his consent, or unless he misuses his land and Khudkasht area or area under personal cultivation should be protected up to 50 acres as per the Act of 1972.
However, if a reform is to be carried out successfully, it must win the active support and ensure people’s participation. Reform should run a little ahead of the social, economic and political situation of a country.