Articles published in Anasakti Darshan: July 2010, [Vol.5 No.2] and June 2011, [Vol.6 No.1]
[ International journal for building a non-violent egalitarian society ]
An Interview of Shubhamurti with Aneesh Ankur
Shubhamurti is the chairman of the Bihar Bhoodan Yagna Committee and a well-known social worker. He has worked with Jaiprakash Narayan since 1969. After JP’s movement in Bihar, he worked in the field of health. He has been working with the Bhoodan Yagna Committee for the past four years and a lot of work has been done in the field of land donation during his tenure. Excerpts of his talks with Aneesh Ankur.
Q. Shubhamurtiji, tell us how you feel about the Bhoodan movement after nearly half a century? What effect did it have on Bihar? What were the problems and challenges you all faced during the entire movement?
A. Not only the Bhoodan movement, all problems related to landless and land have been further complicated by the bureaucracy and it appears very difficult to break out of their clutches. Unless there is a paradigm shift, things will not be on the track. Firstly, the bureaucracy is of the colonial mindset and its main orientation is to ensure that there is no constructive work that breaks the status quo and if some work is going on in this direction then the aim is on how to put hurdles before it. Whosoever’s interest gets affected places hurdles before it.
The Bhoodan movement has been quite successful and the government was quite successful in transferring land to the landless through this movement. One of the ways was shown by Vinoba Bhave who had asked people to donate land which would then be redistributed among the landless. But the bureaucracy complicated the process of redistribution. It is very difficult to transfer land through this channel. The pattern of land ownership prevalent since the advent of the British has not been the traditional way in this country. Earlier, the village as a whole used to hold the land and the concept of individual ownership is a recent one. The people who used to live in the village used to plough the field and sow it according to the needs of the village. The villagers used to think – how can we maximise the output and get maximum benefit for the people. Naturally, those who were in the field of farming got the maximum amount of land since it was their job to do the farming. There might have been big land owners, but they too used to cultivate the land, but the village as a whole owned the land. This community holding of land was more just, but the British came and made ownership of land on an individual basis. The Bhoodan movement started by Vinobaji also wanted to change the way the people thought about ownership of land and that is why he gave the slogan – all lands belong to Gopal – which meant that all the land belonged to the village. This was a change from the concept of individual ownership. Vinobaji used to worry that how the numerous landless were going to manage if small plots of land went to them after redistribution of land. How were they going to plough these plots, from where were they going to get the finance to plant crops etc?
To tide over this problem, the concept of Gramdan came after Bhoodan, where it was stressed that even if there are individual cultivators the land ultimately belonged to the village, at least in the first phase. Then, other things could be thought once cooperation increased among the villagers. JP talked about Gramdan while working in Mushari, but the idea could not be planted among the bureaucrats and there was no demand from the grassroots to implement it. JP, then thought that some other method should be adopted and he launched the Total Revolution movement. When he realised that the concept of common ownership would not work, he talked of redistributing the land and among the landless and also give them the right to stay (Basgeet Ka Parcha), which was vetted by the government. By that time the government had also passed law in this regard and in 1970–71, thousands of farmers were benefitted. But, then the work lost its momentum and JP also realised that the bureaucracy simply did not have the wherewithal to implement it.
The Gramdaan Act had given more powers to the villages than what the villagers received after the implementation of the Panchayati Raj Act, but further implementation got bogged down due to the bureaucracy.
Q. You are saying that the bureaucracy was the main stumbling block behind the failure of the Bhoodan movement, but was the bureaucracy solely responsible for the failure or was it also due to lack of political will of the leaders? After all the bureaucracy is but a tool.
A. Yes the bureaucracy is but a tool, but I feel that the question of lack of political will is less important as on a number of occasions there was political leadership that was conducive to the idea.
A. We have to understand that when Srikrishna Singh – the first Chief Minister of Bihar – was in power, especially during the first five years there was great emphasis on land redistribution. For the first time in Bihar the
Land Reform Act was made, the zamindari system was abolished, the Land Ceiling Act was passed, the Basgeet Act was passed, and the share croppers were recognised under it and eight to nine laws on land reforms were passed during this period. Then K B Sahay came and he too was committed, but his tenure was too short.
So, I don’t feel that there was a lack of political will, but it was the bureaucracy that meddled in the implementation. When the backward leadership came to fore they were not as conservating about land as the earlier leadership, but there was less work done during this period. During the Laloo-Nitish era not much thought was given on what had to be changed; the processes through which the land could be transferred. The Bhoodan committee was simply given the power that they should redistribute the land, but the bureaucracy still holds the actual power of giving the landless beneficiary the right to the given land.
It is a strange process that even though it is the government that has set up the Bhoodan committee and the committee is distributing actual Bhoodan land vetted by the government to the landless; the beneficiary still has to go to the bureaucracy for possession and permanent title of the land. The government should recognise the beneficiary who has been given the land by the committee as the undisputed owner and hand over the land without having to go to the bureaucracy.
At present, the bureaucracy goes through the certificate issued by the committee, and then follows the process of mutation and then the land is handed over. This is a lengthy and unnecessary process, and this loophole has become a big hole and the beneficiaries have to do the rounds of the bureaucracy endlessly. One of the demands before the mutation is that it has to be proved that the land that has been given as Bhoodan actually belongs to the owner. This is totally unnecessary as this process has already been done when the land was being acquired by the government in the first place, before being transferred to Bhoodan committee.
Q. This unnecessary interference of the bureaucracy could have been removed at the political level. Any government in power can come and say that the land allotment of the Bhoodan committee is final?
A. Yes, this can be done, but is not being done. We have seen that the ministers keep quiet before the officers. The ministers feel that the IAS officers know English, they know more than us. The aura of the officers is so great that even intelligent ministers keep quiet and this is true from top to bottom. Though things have improved slightly and nowadays the ministers have become more assertive. But, even now though many of the elected representatives have the will to supersede the bureaucracy, yet they lack the confidence. Another fear of the politicians is that if they clash with the bureaucracy then the latter will somehow embroil them in some problem. Nobody is prefect, and also the law is such that one can face allegations of corruption in whatever work one does, the alternative being not to work at all. I have also seen that the top bureaucrats fear implementing the law. They think that implementation of the law would have their own pros and cons and numerous questions can be raised on the basis of the negative aspects and there is going to be continuous harassment. So the tendency of the top bureaucrat is not to work more, just enough to get by, save your skin while working and do not take any risks. The power situation in the country is such that if you want to work for the powerless then you have to take some risk. I told the present Chief Secretary that do the things on my behalf, I will go to jail if necessary, but he feels that if I go to jail then he too would be questioned why he gave permission. Even the honest bureaucrat is afraid and more than political will it is the commitment of the bureaucracy that is necessary.
Q. Given the circumstances, do you think that the nature of the bureaucracy would change? If things continue then nothing will change?
A. If the bureaucracy does not change then it guarantees that nothing will change, and it is equally true that such change has never occurred anywhere.
Q. How much work of the Bhoodan is left? How much land is there that has to be redistributed?
A. When I came four years back there was 30,000 acres that had to be distributed. On papers it was 1.5 lakh acres, but on scrutinising it transpired that much of it could not be distributed at all. Of the 1.5 lakh acres, there is no description of 1.25 lakh acres of land. If it had been done immediately then the land could have been given. Usually these announcements were made in gram sabhas. A person got up and announced that he would be donating say five or 10 acres of land. The atmosphere was such that at the time of announcement, the person sincerely meant it, but at that time often he himself did not know which portion of the land he would be giving, and what is its description so that that portion of the land could be positively identified. People were less educated in those days and often they did not have the proper papers. The work of preparing papers etc was mainly done by government servants and the volunteers of the movement did not have the proper knowledge and expertise to note down the description of the land being donated. There were some volunteers who had knowledge of these things and in places where they went, the details were registered. Some of the more aware donors themselves provided the details. Some donors had the right intensions but did not have the details. If the government was more pro-active and had proper laws been passed, then all the land that had been donated could have been distributed. But now it is near impossible. The land donated at that time has now been redistributed a number of times and it would be very difficult to take it back.
Q. So of the 1.5 lakh acre only 30,000 acre land is such that it can be distributed?
A. Of the 30,000 acre, only 2,000 acre is left. There is an additional 5000 acre which the government has to conform and hand it back to us. The Bhoodan committee has written to the government to expedite the matter.
Q. Have the landless been given possession of the 28,000 acre of land that has been distributed?
A. There are two to three categories in it. We have decided that only women would be made owners of the land and we have given land to 30,000 women. They have possession of the land and their names are registered in the government papers also. There is also one section that has possession of the land, but their names are not registered in the government papers. This section comprises maximum number and they are in constant fear that the land would be taken away from them. Their detractors also harp on the fact that their names are not in official records and also say that Bhoodan is nothing, whereas Bhoodan is an act and has the force of the government behind it. Yet, an atmosphere is being created that the Bhoodan committee is powerless and cannot do anything. The ruling party, the opposition and also the Congress leaders have their role in creating this environment, and the big farmers also support them. Also we announced that the landless should take possession of Bhoodan land if they come to know of it and we will give them certificate later on. Due to this in various places people have taken possession of Bhoodan land that had been encroached upon.
Q. Under these circumstances, things would take a violent turn?
A. So far things haven’t taken a violent turn, mainly because the number of such cases are not large. In any case, people who have illegally occupied the land also know that it is Bhoodan land and meant for the poor and they have usually given it up when the landless comes with the certificate issued by the Bhoodan committee.
In some places there have been cases where the encroached land has not been vacated even after the landless has been allotted the land. In that case, we tell the landless that this is his piece of land and also write to the district magistrate\SP and ask them to get the land vacated, and it is their responsibility to get the encroachment vacated.
Q. Has it ever happened that you had to take help of the administration to give possession of the land to the landless from the encroacher? Has the administration and bureaucracy helped you?
A. There are examples, but they are few. In most cases, the bureaucracy is afraid to act. They feel that if they try to remove the encroachment then there will be a fight, blood will flow and someone might get killed and further problems might arise for them. We feel that there might be some small incidents of violence while enforcing the ruling of the Bhoodan committee, but if we do not do anything then there might be bigger violence. To prevent the bigger violence, we have to do something. The work can be done tactfully by creating constant pressure, but what can be achieved if we run away from the situation. Now we are concentrating on organising the women and trying to create an atmosphere whereby they can take possession of undisputed land.
Q. How will the women know that which land is meant for them?
A. We have the details. We have staff who measure the land and then we inform the farmer that this is Bhoodan land and he is illegally occupying it.
Q. You talked of only two categories so far, there is also a third category where the landless do not have the land registered in their names and neither do they have it under their possession?
A. The third category do not have possession, nor are their names in the government register, they only have our letter saying that the land belongs to them. But we have seen that even if he has a piece of paper saying that a particular plot belongs to him, he will try his best to get it. If he fears violence is necessary to forcibly occupy the land then he will come rushing to us, and ask us to help him get the land. We write to the administration and this creates pressure on the person occupying the land illegally. But this can work only up to a point and the bureaucracy won’t go beyond a certain point. Therefore, we have created a strategy wherein we tell the landless that this land belongs to them and we are building up the organisation to support them and create pressure. We also write to the government to create pressure.
Q. How many committees of Bhoodan Yagna committee have been formed? Are they present in all the districts? How does it run?
A. There are committees in each district and they are recognised by the government. They have powers backed by law. But it is also true that where 10 people are required we have only two or three. Sometimes there is no bailiff. When we ask the government to provide us with a Bailiff, sometimes the District Magistrate obliges us, sometimes he does not. So we have to work with all these handicaps. Therefore, somewhere these committees are effective and somewhere they are not.
There is also the question of salary. Since the committee has been constituted under an Act, there should have been a budget for the government that would have ensured that everyone got their salaries - which also should have been mentioned – and it would have provided for tour and travel. But this clause was deliberately left out. When we ask from where we will get the money for running the establishment, we are told that we should somehow manage on our own. It has become joke. When the Bhoodan committee was formed initially, the government was more liberal and provided money to it. And there were Vinobaji and Jayaprakash, who provided moral pressure and the government sanctioned budget for the committee. But now that even Jayaprakash Narayan is no more, all the pressure has gone.
Q. So the government does not listen to your pleas?
A. The government says that we have to fend for ourselves. They do not want to even listen to us. This government has increased our budget a bit. We had asked for Rs 1.5 crore, but they gave us only Rs 65 lakhs, which is less than half. They have told us to manage within this. This amount includes the salaries of the staff. Earlier, we were given only Rs 24 lakhs. But if we have to do even minimum amount of work we should be given Rs 1.5 crore and if we have to work properly then we should be given Rs 2 crore. Whereas, if one looks at the employees of the revenue department, the circle officer, additional collector and his entire machinery, the government spends anywhere between Rs 15-20 crores. This is apart from their salaries. Compared to Rs 20 crore, we are only asking for Rs 2 crore, but you (government) are not willing to agree and say that we should work within limits of our budget. This constraint is applicable only for us, not the secretary level bureaucrats of the government.
Q. It is still not clear even today about the amount of land which was received under Bhoodan. Some people say it is 6 lakh acres, and some say 21 lakh acres. What is the true figure?
A. Around 24 lakh acres was received in Bihar only under Bhoodan, but this included Jharkhand. After the division of Bihar, a big section went to Jharkhand. The forests, mountains where there were big tracts of land went there. In Bihar, only small tracts of land was left. In Bihar, around 6.5 lakh acres was left. When the government started looking into the land they found that 3.5 lakh acre of land could not be distributed as they were nullahs, forests or even graveyards. But even from the remaining land it was found that there were no proper records of 15000-25000 acres, leaving behind 2.75 lakh acres and from this we have distributed around 2.5 lakh acres.
Q. When was the maximum amount of land distributed?
A. The maximum distribution was in the initial phase when Vinoba and Jayaprakash were there – from 1952-53 to 1965-70. What remained was difficult to distribute.
Q. After Vinoba and Jayaprakash, what per cent of land was distributed?
A. According to my estimate, around 40 per cent of the land was left after them. Then the work of distribution went on very slowly. All I can say is that more land has been distributed in the four years of my tenure when compared to the last 15-16 years. Now only around 2000 acres are left. Plus there is the possibility that around 5000 acres might be added. The recommendations of the D Bandopadhyay committee on land set up by the Nitish Kumar government has also to be considered. In its first recommendation, the Bandopadhyay committee asked whether the 3.5 lakh acres of land declared unfit for distribution by the officials was correct or not. Or whether the officials had been hand in glove with the landowners and given false report. However, the government was not willing that we conduct a survey. Initially, the suggestion had been that if we do the survey then the real situation would become clear. We did a survey, but though we were not able to do it properly, it did appear that a large part of the land was not fit for distribution. In some cases the description is too scanty and in some case the situation map is very small. But even then, of the 3.5 lakh acres, we have description of around 40,000 acres. Of the remaining land we found that, the description of 1.10 lakh acre could not be confirmed. I personally feel that around 50,000 acres of land that were under rivers and nullahs have now come out as rivers have dried up and have become good agriculture land which can be distributed. Also with the help of new technology poor quality land can now be made fertile. I also feel that these days the number of landless has increased due to displacement from dams and other projects. While earlier we only used to give agriculture land, now we also give land for housing purpose.
Q. How much land do you give for housing purpose?
A. We give around 10 decimal land, which is around 2 cottas, so that people can build their houses and also plant a few trees and bushes.
Q. Has large scale displacement of people resulted in this change in policy?
A. Displacement has increased landlessness. At the time of independence, around 25 per cent of the population did not have land, now it has jumped to 40 per cent. Poverty and illiteracy has also increased due to landlessness. Also our pattern has changed. Now agriculture land is given to local landless, relocation of landless from other places is not done. Also the landless are unwilling to move to another place. The demand and importance of land is greater in places where there are more landless. But our effort is to ensure that no one gets less than 10 decimals. But, for example when we initially allotted 3 acres of land to three brothers, it appeared fine, but by the time they got the land, they had their families and many children.
Q. What has been the political impact of this in Bihar?
A. There has been great political impact. The communists were angry with the movement as they felt that due to Bhoodan the agitation of the poor and landless that could have taken a violent turn became a more gradual and peaceful change.
Q. When did the Bhoodan movement really start? There are conflicting dates.
A. The Bhoodan movement primarily started from Telangana region, when after independence there was violence around 1950s. Vinobaji went there. In any case after Gandhiji’s death there was discussion among his followers about what had to be done to perpetuate his legacy. The discussion was held at Seva Gram in which Nehru and Jaiprakash among others were also present. During that period the refugee problem was at its peak and Vinobaji wanted to see whether Gandhiji’s philosophy could work among them. The refugees did not have any home of their own. The efforts of the government were the same as it is today – very slow. Also, most of the relief material that came for the refugees disappeared, no one knows where. Vinobaji felt that it would be futile to work among the refugees. During this period a violent agitation started for land in the Telangana region. Vinobaji thought that if we really believe in ahimsa and it really works, then it should work in the Telangana region also. He went to one of the violence affected village and asked the villagers the reason behind the violence and they said that it was land. Vinobaji asked the villagers how much land they wanted and they said that they would need 100 acres of land. In this meeting, which had been organised by the communists, both the land owners and the landless were present. Then, Vinobaji turned to the landowners and asked whether they could give 100 acres of land. One landlord stood up and said that he would donate 101 acres. His name was Ramchandra Reddy, and there is also a statue of him in that village. Vinobaji thought that if land could be procured for the landless here, why not in other places. He started his padyatra from there. In 1952, he went via Seva Gram, from there to Uttar Pradesh, Benaras and then to Bihar. He started getting land from 1952 and even in places he did not visit, his followers received land.
Q. How long did the people continue with donating land under the movement, and how long did the landless receive land?
A. Bits and pieces of land are still being given. Whenever people come to meet us, we ask them, ‘Can you donate land,’ and people donate two to three cottas. There is software engineer from Purnea district who is now settled in Hyderabad. He wanted to sell his property here and talked to me, and said, ‘Now that I have talked to you, I will sell the rest of my land, but donate 10 acres of land under Bhoodan.’ The Bhoodan movement started from 1952, but the maximum amount of land was received during 1962-63. After that the quantum of land received decreased, and part of the reason was because Vinobaji had stopped emphasising Bhoodan and had moved on to the concept of Gramdaan.
Q. Gramdaan? What is this concept?
A. The concept is that even if the landless gets land, how will he cultivate it? He usually does not know about agriculture, is illiterate and also does not have the resources to start cultivation. Vinobaji had also seen the attitude of the government and realised that no help would come from that quarter. So if the big and small people of the village got together and run the village, which Gandhiji termed as ‘village republic’, then everybody would benefit. Vinobaji also believed that land ownership should not be individual but of the village, which has also been our tradition. For this reason he talked about Gramdaan.
Apart from education, politics and economic development the villagers would be able to determine their day to day life on their own. The government is outside the village. No one will go to court with quarrels, the village itself will decide on it. But if they want, they can move to court. It means a village free of government interference. He (Vinobaji) used to say like Gandhiji that we have gained freedom from foreign government, but true Swaraj will come only when we are free of the domestic government also meaning with the freedom from both domestic and foreign governments, the villagers would be able to determine their life on their own. The people who worked with Gandhiji at that time, including Nehru might not have believed in all that Gandhiji stood for, but they could not come out against him and accepted whatever he said. Vinobaji caught this strain of though later on and soon Jayaprakash also joined. Apart from Nehru, Jayaprakashji was the tallest leader and his coming out for Bhoodan created a major impact.
Q. When did Vinobaji change track from Bhoodan to Gramdaan?
A. When Bhoodan movement was launched, some of the villagers said, why do you want land, take the entire village. At that time there was no legal framework for this concept, but later on a formula was put in place. The villagers would donate and create a village fund and they would meet once a month for gram sabha. Each household would place their problems at the gram sabha, which would meet once a month. There would be discussion on the problems and if need be, they would go to the government or find a solution for themselves. It would be the duty of the gram sabha to see that there was no landless in the village and there was a village fund, that even the poor had enough land on which to build a house with space for a few trees. Apart from gram sabha, gram kosh (village fund) and Bhoodan, Vinobaji also talked about Shanti Sena, comprising youth of the village. They would act as the village police who would stop people fighting with each other and mediate during quarrels. Ten persons would also patrol the village at night to prevent thefts. All these ingredients were made part of the Gramdan Act.
Q. When was the Gramdan Act passed and how many villages came under this act?
A. The Gramdan Act came into being in 1965. It was implemented in totality in 150 to 200 villages. Vinobaji said that there are 5 lakh villages in the country, and around 1.5 lakh of them are in Bihar, and hence it would be a long time if one moved from one village to another. So they asked the villages to give their consent, but as people said later, this is where Vinobaji’s concept failed. While the villagers gave their consent in places visited by Vinobaji and Jayaprakashji, it was only temporary. Once they went away, the villagers went back to their old ways of caste and creed etc.
Q. Then it means that there was no organisation that could implement the act even if Vinobaji and Jayaprakashji did not go there. Also all this was due to their personal influence?
A. Yes, it was due to their personal influence that villagers agreed to Gramdan, but there was no implementing organisation even though the Act was made. Even now there are 150-200 villages in Muzaffarpur working
under the Gramdan Act.
Q. Did the maximum number of Gramdan take place here?
A. Gramdan was the maximum in Muzaffarpur because Jayaprakashji spend two years here. Even before this there was the Khadi gram ashram in Munger. There was one Dhirendra Majumdar, who was Gandhiji’s disciple,
who was also head of Sevagram. Gandhiji had himself nominated him. After independence, Dhirendra Majumdar came and settled in Munger. He spent his life working on 7-8 acre of land there and spreading the message of Gandhiji and implemented the concept of Gramdan in the villages there. There was some Gramdan in most districts, wherever Jaiprakashji went.
Q. So Dhirendra Majumdar was the first to implement the concept?
A. The concept was brought by Vinobaji, but Dhirendra was the first to implement it. Later, Jayaprakashji built the Sekhodora ashram in Nawada. It is still there. Some work was also done in Gaya. That was also notified in the gazette. After gazette notification, the government officials used to check it to see whether everything was functioning properly or not. Then it was given legal powers under the Gramdan Act. But then people started fighting, there was corruption, and the powers under Gramdan Act was taken away from the villagers who were told that they were not organised enough to take benefit of this act.
Q. Then the government also stopped helping?
A. The government had to give the powers. Vinobaji used to urge people to unite and use the power of unity. Jayaprakashji was in Mushari for one year where he wrote the book “Face to Face”. Jayaprakashji felt that things would not work in this way. How long could he go about convincing villagers when they were so immersed in their own world of squabbles and humdrum of life? So in 1974 he turned towards revolution in Bihar.
Q. Is Gramdan still there? Are villages still functioning under this Act?
A. The Act was suspended in 1976, but when the Janata government came to power and Karpuri Thakur headed the government, seven villagers demanded this act. They were given powers and their share of revenue was given directly to them from the respective panchayats.
Q. Did this Act bring about some noticeable change?
A. If the Act were in force for 10 years there would have been change, but that did not happen. But what happened was that gram sabhas were held where even if a weak person got up and stated his point, people of the village had to listen to it and promise that they would do something, and some steps were taken. No one was neglected completely. There were problems where there were no volunteers to help the villagers or if there were some very powerful people who did not listen to anyone.
Q. Which means there was no agency?
A. There was need for an agency. If the process had continued then something would have evolved, but that did not happen.
Q. Till 1965 people donated land, and then the period of Gramdan started. What happened to Bhoodan after that?
A. Till 1965 people donated land under Bhoodan movement and landless continued getting it till 1970. By then, 60 per cent of the land had been distributed. By 1969, Vinobaji had left. He said that people should think that he was dead. I want to see how this concept would work after I die. Now you all become leaders. This was a very good concept. But nothing would work if everything depended on one man. We depended on Mahatma Gandhi and he was assassinated and look where we all went. Similarly, if the Bhoodan and Gramdaan depended on me, you would not be empowered, how could the power of the common people increase instead of that of the leaders?
Then Vinobaji left from Pavnar ashram where he said that he would not come out of the ashram. The role of Jayaprakashji started after that. After the work he did in Mushari in 1970-71 he felt that this was not the right way. He felt that while he was working in the villages, trying to change things, the rulers of the country were turning autocratic. All the norms of governance were being broken. Officers of the armed forces were being superseded, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was being superseded and the government was putting in ‘yes men’ in their places. Corruption was also increasing. Jayaprakashji felt that forming an organisation and then fighting elections was not the way. So he called for Youth for Democracy. I agree that had not Jayaprakashji worked for Sarvodaya, Bhoodan, Gramdan; his personality would not have gained such a height so that everyone became attracted to it. People felt that this man did not belong to any party, neither the ruling party nor the opposition, but a man of the common people. There were politicians who helped him, but Jayaprakashji kept a condition that whatever work was done under his aegis would be apolitical and non-violent. That Jayaprakashji called for peaceful movement was mainly the influence of the Sarvodaya and Bhoodan movement.
Q. What happened after Jayaprakashji’s movement?
A. After Jayaprakashji’s movement there were no similar movements anywhere. The leaders of the movement joined various parties and then came to power. Later Jayaprakashji also made a youth organisation. Earlier
in that organisation there were 10 to 15 persons, people like me, who did not belong to any party but just worked for the society. I joined Jayaprakashji in 1970, but after the Bihar movement there were around 100-150 youths who joined him. It was youth like these who brought about the Bodhgaya movement.
Q. When was the Bhoodan committee formed and when was the Act made effective?
A. In 1954 the Act came into force and the committee came from the act itself.
Q. This Act was made effective during S K Singh’s government? At that time itself this loophole was left in the Act which ensured that the people had to go to the bureaucracy to get land under the Act? Was this not very deliberate?
A. This is a very important aspect of the Act and I do not think that the government did understand its implication. If they understood, then the bureaucracy deliberately kept it there to ensure that this did not leave their domain.
Q. Did this happen when Vinobaji was still there? Did Vinobaji fail to understand its implication?
A. He did understand and that is why he talked of Gramdan, because he felt that once the villagers became united then the government wouldn’t be able to override the will of the people.
Q. Did Vinobaji not fight against what was essentially a bureaucratic spanner in the works?
A. This is where there was a difference in the approach between Jayaprakashji and Vinobaji. Jayaprakashji would keep a close watch on what the politicians were doing, what the bureaucrats were doing and react to
their action. He gave his reaction on the issue of reservation or the Suez crisis, because he felt that it was not a matter of politics but a matter of the people and he should speak out. However, Vinobaji also understood these things, but he did not react because he thought that this would divert his attention from the main task.
Q. But Vinobaji did not speak against the bureaucratic interference. Did he feel that if he spoke against the bureaucracy then he would have to go against the government?
A. No, whenever he spoke, it was in jest or at an academic level, but he did not call for a movement against the bureaucrats.
Q. When was the Ceiling Act introduced?
A. It was introduced in 1950-51 along with the zamindari abolition act, but it was decided that the Ceiling Act would be implemental 10 years later. This gave the rich zamindars the time to divert their property into fictitious names (benami); for example 100 acres of land was divided into 20 people – all fictitious people – and the zamindars continued to retain control. Srikrishna Babu used to tell Vinobaji. Why are you working so hard in the Bhoodan movement in your old age? We (government) have introduced the land ceiling act which will ensure that land is distributed among the landless. In reply Vinobaji said that the culture of the government is to ‘levy’ that is take things by force and our culture is ‘Devi’ which means to give voluntarily.
He often used to taunt the bureaucracy. He said that like the flag of the country was changed after the British left, the education and bureaucracy should also be changed. But these people did not have the courage to press the point. When the First Five Year Plan was being prepared, Nehru gave a draft copy to Vinobaji for his comment. Vinobaji read it and threw it into the dustbin and said that there is nothing in it for the poor. All the benefits will go to the rich and middle class. But the Plan was passed as Nehru, apart from being Western oriented, was also popular.
Q. So the Bhoodan movement and the Ceiling Act started at around the same time. But the Bhoodan movement became more popular?
A. Initially, the government did not get much land under the Ceiling Act. While the Bhoodan movement received 3 lakh acres of land, the land seized under Ceiling Act was around 10,000 to 15,000 acres. There was no
comparison. But then, Vinobaji shifted from Bhoodan to Gramdaan and then gave that up too. Land was seized under the Ceiling Act after 1970 and finally the amount of land seized was somewhere near to the land received under the Bhoodan movement.
Q. Did the government distribute the land that it seized after implementing the Ceiling Act?
A. In most of the cases, the seized land was handed back to the original owner on lease. A few days back I was at a departmental meeting and the issue of renewing the lease of land was being discussed. The lease of most of the land in the city had been renewed for another 20 years at the earlier rate, which is a paltry sum, as there was no provision in law to increase it. It was only after the leases had been renewed that the lease rent was increased. Now the increase can be made only after 30 years. So this is how the law itself allows fraud to be perpetrated. The logic of the government is that after they seized land, it should be put to use, so they handed it back to the same person for him to use. It would be interesting to see through RTI how much land the government got from the Ceiling Act, how much is left and how much of it has been leased. It is also possible that the government might not be able to give an accurate figure as they themselves do not have it with them.
Q. Is it possible that the government does not know how much land it got under the Ceiling Act?
A. No, the government knows how much land it got under the Ceiling Act, but perhaps it does not know how much of the land was given back to the original owners on lease, and how much was distributed among landless farmers. The main problem is that the land records are not accurate. In many cases the plot size is 10 acres, and while 4 acres is registered in your name, 5 acres is registered in my name. And we are forever fighting over the 2 acres. In 50 per cent of the cases, the land records are not correct or up to date, and the government has done nothing about it. In 1993, it announced that it would computerise all the land records of the country and even amended the Constitution for it, but the work has not been completed. Three years back the Chief Secretary called all the district magistrates and said that Bihar has got the money for computerising the land records and we should start working on it. At that time I had asked the main thing was to fix a completion date, and the Chief Secretary had said that the work would be completed within a year. But, the work has not even started till now. We also believe that computerisation is necessary and we are computerising all the Bhoodan records. Things would be much easier once the work is complete. We have started work in 10-12 districts through outsourcing. In the first phase the work is that of scanning and then data entry. That work has been completed. We have also developed the software but we do not have the data showing who has actual possession of a land, whether mutation has been done etc. For this, we will have to conduct a ground level survey at every place, but we do not have the required workers for this.
But while doing this task, the Bhoodan workers got closely associated with the government employees and learnt corruption from them. Now they demand money from the landless in return for giving them certificate for the land. The landless also thinks; Ok, I am getting land, so I might as well spend some money for it. They are fools and do not understand that even if they do not pay they will get the land. I often take the landless aside and ask them if they have paid bribe and they say, ‘yes’, I gave this amount to that person. But of course, when confronted these workers deny it. Actually, it is very difficult to check such corruption where both parties gain – like dowry. But as Jayaprakash said, if the person at the top is honest, then controlling corruption at the bottom is possible. When there was corruption at the top, the work of Bhoodan got affected and it lost credibility. But now, after I took over, the top is clean.
Q. Before you came, there was corruption at the top also?
A. There were two to three types of corruption, one of which was personal. We have heard that during the time of Laloo Yadav, he used to tell the district magistrates that you all have to give me this much amount of
money every month. Similarly, the head of Bhoodan committee used to tell his units to give a certain amount of money to him every month. Where would the units get the money, but from the landless who are the potential beneficiaries.
Q. So all this money came from the pockets of the poor?
A. Yes, everything came from the pockets of the poor. When the Bhoodan workers started taking money for issuing certificates for land, the government officials also started demanding money for mutation of the land. The attitude was, if the Bhoodan workers have taken money, why should we not take it. Slowly the Bhoodan workers and the government officials joined hands, and it became very difficult to control them. But even with all this we have done our main task, that of giving land certificate to the landless. Now it is the work of the government to do the mutation, give possession and enter everything into the register.
Q. What percentage of the land is not in the possession of the landless?
A. Around 50 per cent of the land. The land belongs to them on paper, but it is not in their possession, and if it is in their possession then the mutation has not been done. In around 1.5 lakh acre of land, the work is complete and no one can evict the landless from the land there. Entries are there in the register of 1 lakh families, and names of 2 lakh families are yet to be registered.
Q. This means that three lakh families have been affected by this in Bihar?
A. The names of two lakh families are yet to come into the registers. and this is an unfinished agenda. But the bureaucracy is saying that since the Bhoodan committee has already distributed land by issuing certificates, its work is done and the committee should be wound up. The present revenue minister Ramai Ram told me in the first meeting that he had tried to dissolve the Bhoodan committee during the period of Laloo Yadav, but he failed. But now as revenue minister, he says he will dissolve the committee.
Q. This means that the remaining work of Bhoodan has to be completed?
A. I asked whether the committee would be dissolved after the work is done or before it. And he said that after the work is done. He said us much money and support I needed, he is willing to give, but the work has to be completed. The Bhoodan workers would be given jobs and those who are to be retired would be retired. I told him that the government has my full support if this is the plan. Anyway, Nitish Kumar understands all this and will not dissolve the committee.
Q. So there is a possibility that the committee might be dissolved?
A. I do not think so. There was a lot of noise, but then everything settled down.
Q. It appears that 50 per of the work is left to be done. If we take 1952-53 data then 40,000 acres of land is still to be given out, that in itself is a major challenge.
A. Yes, it is indeed a major challenge. As I told them, the Bhoodan committee was not formed to distribute pieces of paper; the spirit behind the committee is to ensure that the landless get possession of the land. It is our moral duty to ensure this, and it is the legal duty of the government to ensure that the landless who have been issued the certificate by us get actual possession of the land. The relevance of the committee will continue till the actual possession of the land is given. If we dissolve the committee now then one can be sure that the government officials will do nothing about it. But it is also true that the way things are going now, is not good. The government is not fulfilling even the minimum needs of the committee. The workers are getting half pay and under these circumstances how can we tell them to work harder. We cannot bully them to work. It is not in our nature as we believe in love and self discipline. We have to give them a reasonable salary to make them work.
Q. The workers of Bhoodan movement must have joined it from the initial stages?
A. Those who joined the movement in the initial phases have mostly left, and later new people came in.
Q. Why did the new people join? Due to their passion or …..?
A. Some are interested in the work, others came in because they are intelligent and passed the interview.
Q. Maximum amount of Bhoodan land was distributed in Bihar. Was such an Act passed elsewhere?
A. It was passed in several States, but the best work was done in Bihar despite all the shortcomings. Apart from Bihar, it was also passed in Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan. In Rajasthan, the BJP government dissolved the committee, now the Congress is in power and we have talked of reconstituting it, but so far nothing has been done.
Q. There is no body at the national level?
A. Three years ago, I had initiated a proposal to have such a body, otherwise I believe things won’t work out. This is a lacuna. In Andhra Pradesh, the movement has not been very successful, but it is there. In Bihar it was successful because people like Vinobaji and Jayaprakashji devoted a lot of time for the movement.
Q. Why was it so successful in Bihar?
A. Vinobaji used to say that there is a quality in the people of Bihar that they have big hearts and if you place a noble thing before them, they will respond to it. I have travelled all over the country, but in the end I am spending so much time here because I feel that there is some hope here. I feel that the country will change. I cannot say anything with certainty, but all major movements were successful in Bihar.
Q. Is it only a question of big hearts or is it because of the fear of the Left ideology? The zamindars thought that it would be better to donate land through Bhoodan than face the Left revolution?
A. When the Bhoodan movement was at its peak, where was the Left at that time? If that had been the case, then the revolution would have taken place in Andhra Pradesh where the Left was more powerful. The influence of the Left started only in the 70s in Bihar.
Q. This means that the Left gained ground and society took a violent turn only after Vinobaji left. As long as he was here, the Left could not get a foothold?
A. After Vinobaji left, Jaiprakashji went to Mushari. The story goes that two Sarvodaya workers wrote to Jaiprakashji that they had received threat letters from Naxals that they would be killed if they did not leave that place. Naxalism had started in Bengal in 1967 and this was the first instance of their penetration in Bihar. At that time Jayaprakashji was in Uttarakhand. He came to Muzaffarpur directly and said that he would work there. He said that I too want what the Naxals want, but their path is wrong. But by only saying it will not be enough, we will have to work and show that the Naxal’s path is wrong and ours is right. I will either complete the work or you will find my bones. At that time I studied in L S College, and Jayaprakashji used to come there frequently. We used to boycott classes and listen to him.
Q. At that time Rajkishore was a Naxalite who was killed by the police and Jayaprakashji was angry and said that this was not the way to end Naxalism.
A. It was Rajkishore who had written the threat letter to the Sarvodaya workers. He was the leader of Naxals in Mushari and we used to have long debates over several issues. Rajkishore knew that if Jayaprakash found out a different path it was fine, otherwise it was the path of violence, for he, like other Naxals, did not have faith in the system to deliver.
Q. The entire movement failed in its effort to save Bihar from violence, because ultimately violence did take place?
A. When Vinobaji was asked about this, he said that there are three Bs that are bogus– Baba (he used to refer himself to Baba) Bihar bogus, Baba (Vinoba) bogus and Bhoodan bogus. What he meant to say was that they had tried their best and work hard for it, but what to do if it did not succeed. Vinobaji used to believe in work and did not worry about the fruit, which he left to God.
Q. Vinobaji had realised that his work was not entirely successful and therefore, he used such a powerful word as bogus?
A. It was a combination of both realisation and satire. Then came the emergency and Vinobaji demanded ban on cow slaughter. He looked at the ban not from religious but economic perspective. He said that with advent of tractors there would be rising unemployment, environment would be degraded and agriculture would become an industry. Also the culture of agriculture would end. Vinobaji said that Gandhiji also wanted to ban cow slaughter. Indira Gandhi came to Vinobaji and though she assured it would be done, she lost the elections. Then Morarji Desai came and then again Indira Gandhi was back. Vinobaji raised the issue again and he called for a Satyagraha which is continuing even today, and has become the longest Satyagraha ever. Everyday the Satyagrahis assemble before a slaughter house in Mumbai and are arrested. Their number varies, but they assemble everyday without fail.
Q. And the slaughter house has not been closed even now?
A. When Vinobaji started the Satyagraha and Indira Gandhi did not ban cow slaughter, he said what became famous in those days. He said that Indira did not ban cow slaughter because she was not a ‘Gandhi’ and did not understand the emotion behind it. As Feroze Gandhi’s wife her surname was ‘Gandhy’, but Indira changed the spelling and became ‘Gandhi’. So, Vinobaji said, ‘Just by writing ‘Gandhi’ one does not become a Gandhi.
Q. You said earlier that less work was done on land reform when the backward classes came to power when compared to the first 15 years of Congress rule.
A. I was surprised when some 20 years ago I was in Jehanabad when Leftist violence was going on there. I asked the villagers, how much land the Naxals had given them and they said not even one inch. Then, one of the Naxals I talked to said that all this killing is not to redistribute land, but the main aim is to capture the Red Fort. The other thing is that the work of land reform is very tedious and complicated. For that you have to work at the grassroot level. Our expertise is to shout slogans, take out marches etc, but when it comes to getting down and working with papers, getting employees to do the job, we back out. We do not have the legal and technical faculty to tackle the problems associated with land, otherwise a crop of such people would have come up by now. The people did not learn it during Jayaprakashji’s movement nor during the socialist movement. The movement in Bodhgaya would have been more successful if we have had this expertise. We did stress this during the days of Chatra Yuva Sangharsh Samiti in the seventies, but there was no orientation towards it. They said this work did not seem to be fit for a Sarvodaya worker.
A. Those associated with the Sarvodaya movement were not interested in understanding and learning the small details. Like how to fill up land papers, how land was measured, what are the problems faced etc, they were only interested in agitation. But Jayaprakash had said that there were four ingredients of a movement– agitation, organisation, education and publicity. Of these four, the agitation part got the maximum attention in Bodhgaya and the remaining three got neglected. Had we learned the technical aspects of working at the ground level the results would have been much greater. We would have had a large number of experts on our ranks who would have pointed out to the bureaucrats how things should be done, and counter the bureaucrats’ move in the legal and technical level. This would have forced the bureaucrats to change and we would have been in a position to suggest these changes, because we would have known what and where things are going wrong and who is doing it. We would have been able to stop corruption at the ground level.
Q. You are trying to say whether it was Vinobaji’s non-violent movement or the violent ones of the Naxals, the main weakness in both the cases was their failure to work at the ground level.
A. Vinobaji did have a number of followers in his movement who had technical expertise, but later this was abandoned. His followers were told that they should live with the poor, eat with the poor, work with them in the fields, teach the poor etc, but there was no effort to learn the ways of the State. How does it work? Who to get hold of when something is not working? Both the Naxals and the Sarvodayis believe that the State is the main oppressor, yet we have not learnt how its oppressive system works, how to counter it; Understand the rules of the game then play your own game and beat it. But you did not understand the game and it slowly ate your vitals without your having even realised it. We believe that more than the politicians it was the bureaucracy that killed the Bhoodan movement. There is another important paper written by Gandhiji the night before he died – January 29 night. It was found in the morning on his table by his secretary and he kept it. But when he was killed, it was brought out. The paper is something of a will or testament of Gandhiji. In that paper, he said that the Congress party should be disbanded as a political party and it should devote itself to social work. Those who want to work in the government should form something separate. He had framed a number of rules for the Congress as an organisation that would serve the people. It included not fighting elections and coming to power, political education of the people and constructive work and educating the people among other things. Under political education of the people, he had suggested that the top leadership should work as ‘Loksevaks’ and educate the people.
Had people like Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, and Sardar Patel worked among the people, they would have had a moral binding on the government, as they were popular. Also the confidence of the people would have increased as they would have thought that the most popular people were with us and not in the government. But this idea was rejected as being impractical. Jayaprakash said on a number of occasions that we did not understand Gandhiji during his lifetime. What Gandhiji was saying was politics outside the power structure. The Bhoodan movement revived that forgotten legacy, and the entire credit goes to Vinobaji and Jayaprakashji. It is not as if social work has to be done only by staying in power, it can be done by staying with the people. Vinobaji used to call this ‘Lokniti’. People’s power has to be brought up against the State’s power; and in a true democracy there will be a struggle between these two powers. If we stand with the people then the people’s power will win and that would be true democracy. This was not understood by the politicians of that era. Jayaprakash and Vinobaji understood this and revived it and carried on Gandhiji’s unfinished agenda. We feel that had this agenda not been revived then the 1974 movement would not have taken place and we would not have been living in a democracy, but dictatorship.
Q. You said that in the last 20 years even though Laloo and Nitish have been in power they have failed in the field of land reforms. This is unexpected since both were products of Jayaprakash’s movement?
A. We think that during the period of Laloo’s rule, there was no one in the leadership who could tackle the land issue. Nitish has improved the roads and the law and order situation, but to work in the field of land reforms, one has to enter deeper. Nitish did set up the D Bandopadhyay Commission on land reforms, but when the suggestions came out and there was talk of implementing them, there was a hue and cry from the opposition and the matter got politicised. And looking at the fierce opposition, Nitish also backed down.
Q. There is no political will to implement them?
A. It is not a question of political will, but political fear that he will lose the elections. All the land owners, upper castes will become united and we will lose. Even now land is the main source of income in Bihar. There is no industry. Be it big farmers or middle farmers, they all feel that if there is land reforms then we will be finished, so they are against it. I had suggested that as a starting step, land records should be computerised. Half the problems would be solved then. From the errors in the figures you would find out the real problems. With correct records court cases would get reduced. The atmosphere would also change and there would be a positive impact of all this. Then the entire field of land reforms would be before you. If you step without a strong base you are bound to get entangled and even the bureaucracy would not come to your aid. I have written to the government saying that you can computerise the records at your speed, but give us money to computerise our Bhoodan records, and when all the land records get computerised, you can attach our figures. At present, the bureaucrats think that members of the Bhoodan committee and their employees are distributing land and minting money. The bureaucrats think that had we been distributing this land, we would have made the money. This is a reality. So there is always this attempt to make the Bhoodan land part of the government land. In the 60s when survey of Bhoodan land was done, the Bhoodan committee did not have that many employees\workers who could work at the ground level. As a result of which in the places were Bhoodan workers went, the correct figures got noted. In places where there were no Bhoodan workers, the government employees did the survey and in 40 per cent of the cases, they have entered Bhoodan land as government land. Now they are asking: how could you distribute this land which is government land? But we are saying that we do not even know that you have entered the Bhoodan land as government land. And in any case if we have distributed the land, it has only been given to the landless, so how does it matter who gave the land, whether it was the Bhoodan committee or the government. But the district magistrates and others officers say that if it is government land then we will distribute it, you won’t do it. Actually, what they want to say is that when you distribute it you make money, and when we distribute it, we will make the money. But the problem is that farmers have the land in their possession, now it won’t be possible to throw them out and give the land to someone else.
Q. Shubhamurtiji, it is said that poor quality of land was given in Bhoodan. They were not serious while donating land?
A. This is true. Of the 6.5 lakh acre donated, only 2.5 lakh acres were fit for agriculture and the remaining was unfit. People used to tell Vinobaji that the people were cheating him, and he used to reply that let the people learn to give, for so far they have only learned to grab. Be it stony land, barren land, whatever, let them donate, we will take it. Also what was considered to be bad land earlier has now turned out to be good and valuable land. For example, earlier land by the side of the road was considered to be bad as water got collected in it during rains, but now in many places, land by the roadside is prime property. Bhoodan has large tracts of such land, which property dealers are eyeing hungrily.
Q. When land was donated to Bhoodan at gram sabhas, were the documents not prepared?
A. When someone donated some land, it was announced in the gram sabha – only the name, address and the quantum of land. Later the Bhoodan worker went to that person’s house and took the details and filled in forms. The Bhoodan Act was passed in 1954, but this had been going on since 1952-53. In many cases, the people who donated the land did not have papers, but had possession. And that was donated among the landless.
Q. So much land has been distributed in Bihar yet some people say that land was never an agenda and there is no need for land reforms. However, the Left believe that if land reforms take place a major problem would be solved. But another section also says that land reforms might have been an agenda in the 70s, but it is no longer relevant.
A. There has been deliberate attempt to remove land as an agenda not only from India, but all over the world. Those who say this do not have any connection with land. They have only academic connection from afar. There is a psychology attached to land, something akin to a mother’s love for her child. Even the West understands this and calls it ‘affinity with land’ or ‘affinity with earth’. You cannot remove land from the agenda. In places like Europe where people have got separated from land, the society has disintegrated. Family, society is all in the control of the state. The health, even children and old people are looked after by the state. Such a condition will arise in India if land is removed from agenda. If land is redistributed it will bring about a major change not only on the ground level but also at the psychological level. There is an allegation against people of Bihar that they work well in other states, be it as workers or as DMs and SPs but the moment they work in Bihar they become lethargic and corrupt. If even 50 per cent of the problem of land is solved then there will be a change in the attitude of the people. They will start working honestly and the bureaucracy will also be affected by the change. And of course, there will be a major impact on politics. Even though land is a political issue, but there will be problem if we politicise the matter. To make land reforms effective, we have to do it in a non-political way, especially above party politics. This can be done and it won’t be very difficult also. Over 50 per cent of the people directly depend on land and if we are able to normalise things there, then a major work would be completed. People just have to understand this.