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Published Date: Jun 24, 2013

SDPI Press Release (June 24, 2013)

Experts
at a dialogue have called for immediate land reforms in the country, which they
said is the most efficient way of alleviating poverty and reducing inequality
in the country. They also urged the need to revive public discourse to pursue
land reforms in the country.

The
experts were speaking at a civil society joint dialogue titled “Addressing the
Inequality Gap: A Dialogue on Land Rights” organized at Sustainable Development
Policy Institute (SDPI) here on Monday. The event was jointly organized by
SDPI, SAP-PK , Piler, Sungi, Pattan, SDF and SLMP.

Karamat
Ali, Executive Director, PILER started the proceedings and briefed participants
about land rights situation in Pakistan. He said that current feudal system was
started by British to crush uprisings and strengthen their rule and that’s the
reason no change has been witnessed even after the independence because we have
same feudal elected in our parliament. He added that feudal elite has occupied
the system and are opposing every move which can undermine their power,
including the land reforms.  Even the fragmentation of land didn’t affect
the social and political powers of feudal elite, he added.

Talking
of move by Supreme Court to review the decision of Shariat Appellate Bench
which has called the land reforms as ‘Un Islamic’, he said that Shariat Court
decision has caused serious impediments to land reforms in Pakistan.
“Peasants, small farmers and bonded agricultural worker has no rights and
time has now come to set priorities for these poor people who don’t have
social, political and economic rights and only land reforms can give these
rights to landless poor in Pakistan,” he added.

Dr Faisal Bari, Associate Professor
at Lahore University of Management Sciences said that if introduced, land
reforms can change overall economic structure, employment stream and bring much
needed equality in the society. He said that feudal setup hinders the
democratic process where feudals became intermediaries between the state and
peasants and a patronage clientage system is formed.

Talking
of Shariat court decision on land reforms he added that court conceded in its
decision that it got little ‘amicus help’ from the experts, hence there is much
hope in review petition of better judgment.  He also raised concerns over
the process and jurisprudence of the case and identified the split in judiciary
when at one point Sharia court declared it Islamic and at another place
declared it un-Islamic.

Eminent
economist, Dr Syed Akmal Hussain explained land reforms in a broader context of
alleviating poverty and generating economic growth. He said that state is
committing blatant injustice with poor in a situation where it can easily end
poverty when there are solutions available such as land reforms. He explained
that there is 2.6 million acre cultivatable agricultural land available with
the government. He suggested that government must create 5 acre plots and
distribute it among the landless people which would immediately empower 58
percent of 8,97,000 landless farmers.  He also suggested create a fund to
purchase land for remaining 42 percent landless farmers.

He
talked of supplementing the land distribution with establishing a social
enterprise whose owners and shareholders would be poor peasants. He called it
‘Small Farmer Development Corporation’ with 3 billion equity fund which would
be run by professionals and provide services such as development of land, laser
leveling , technical advice and access to credit, quality seed and fertilizer.
He estimated that through such initiative, Pakistan can earn foreign exchange
worth 4 billion US dollar only through export of milk and milk products. He
gave the example of India where Amol company, the world largest producer of
milk and milk products, has been owned by 7 million poor peasants including
women.

Dr
Pervez Tahir, Former Chief Economist, Planning Commission of Pakistan said that
rural poverty is at greater numbers as compared to urban poverty in Pakistan,
and the primary reason is lack of asset and opportunities. He estimated that
around 54.7 percent landless people in the country are living below the poverty
line. He said that 51 percent area of country’s land is owned by less than 5
percent people adding that majority of 67 percent land owners, own less than 5
percent of total area. He said that land concentration is higher in Punjab,
followed by Sindh and then Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where only 1 percent people own
30 percent of cultivatable land in KP.

He
also deliberated on the productivity question in small land holdings and said
that land reforms  pose no threat to agricultural production. “Korea and
many other countries witnessed growth and development after land reforms,” he
added. He was of the view that money spent on poverty alleviation programs must
have been spent on purchasing lands and giving land rights to landless people,
which would have more profound impact in reducing poverty in the country.

Speaking
at the occasion, Famous Singer and Social Activist, Jawad Ahmad dreamed of
world with globalized socialism where people have equity, freedom and equal
opportunities. He said that Pakistani society is gripped by tribal, feudal and
capitalist interests and bringing a change would require collective conscious
effort by all citizens.