In a bid to expedite the distribution of land ownership certificates to the landless people and decentralise the federal responsibility, the government has formed committees of the Landless Squatters' Problems Resolution Commission in all the 77 districts of the country. Each of the seven-member committees will include a chairperson and two others appointed by the government, with the remaining members representing the district Land Revenue Office, Survey and Forest Offices and the District Coordination Committee. The formation of the committees comes shortly after Finance Minister Bishnu Prasad Paudel on Sunday directed the commission to speed up the land distribution certificates. The issue of landless squatters is nothing new to the country, and it has been there since the days of the partyless Panchayat system. Since the restoration of multi-party democracy in 1990, more than a dozen commissions have been formed by different governments to try and resolve the issue once and for all, but to no avail.
The commission has already begun the task of collecting details of the squatters, landless people, Dalits and unorganised settlements in 74 districts by coordinating with the local governments. By mid-February, the commission hopes to collect details of at least 500,000 households by reaching out to all the 753 local governments – metropolitan cities, municipalities and rural municipalities. The government has said distributing land ownership certificates to the landless people is a priority agenda, and by mid-July, an estimated 50,000 households across the country are expected to benefit. Land is to be provided by the government to the landless to engage in agriculture or to build a house, both in the rural areas and in the urban centres, and in all the three ecological zones – the mountains, the hills and the Tarai. It will also help the unplanned settlements, especially along river banks, to become more organised and make it easier for the government to carry out development projects without disturbances from the squatters. For instance, developing road corridors along the river banks in the Kathmandu Valley has faced opposition from the squatters time and again, leading to delay and cost overruns.
It is time the government resolved the issue of landless squatters once and for all. One of the reasons why past commissions failed is because there was no political commitment on the part of the government, who saw the landless people as mere vote banks during the elections. If the incumbent government too has formed the commission – thirteenth in the row – and its committees solely with an eye on the April 30 and May 10 mid-term polls – that is should the Supreme Court rule in favour of the dissolution of the House of Representatives – then the squatters will have been taken for a ride. Settling the squatters' problem by distributing land ownership certificates would benefit the government in other ways, too, as this would bring them into the tax net.
However, in the long run, the government cannot keep on distributing scarce land to the landless. The government must generate employment in the country so that the poor can work and earn to pay for their upkeep.