Land ownership details drive suspended

Citing practical difficulties, the Ministry of Land Reform and Management (MoLRM) has suspended its much-hyped plan to collect land-ownership details from all land owners across the country.

The ministry´s decision not to collect land details until the Land Reform Act is amended means the Supreme Court (SC) order to the government to complete collection of land ownership detials within six months stands grossly flouted.

About a year ago, the SC had ordered government authorities to complete collecting the land details within six months.

Nearly five months ago, MoLRM had issued a public notice asking all land owners to submit their land ownership details to the land reform and land revenue offices of their respective districts.

"Our drive has been suspended due to practical difficulties. We issued notices to collect details of land holdings from both those possessing land in excess of the legal ceiling and those with land below the ceiling," said MoLRM Secretary Keshav Bhattarai, adding, "However, collecting land details from all land owners is quite impractical, costly and time-consuming."

According to Secretary Bhattarai, the ministry will resume its move once the Land Reform Act is amended, paving the way for the government to collect land details only from those who possess land exceeding the legal ceiling.

The present Act says that the government is required to collect land details from all land owners. After the Act is amended, those owning land less than the legal ceiling will not have to submit their land details.

"We have been informed that billions could be spent if we had to collect land details from both those possessing land over the legal ceiling and those with land less than the ceiling," said Secretary Bhattarai, adding, "Collecting land details only from those who possess properties exceeding the legal limit seems to be more practical, less expensive and more effective."

Advocate Madhav Basnet had filed a writ petition at the SC demanding enforcement of the Land Reform Act (Fifth Amendment)-2001, that prohibits possession of land in excess of ceiling. Asked to comment on the MoLRM decision to suspend the whole exercise, Advocate Basnet said, "This is a clear example how the government violates its own commitment."

MoLRM had initiated a move to enforce the Land Reform Act (Fifth Amendment)-2001 with the issuing of a 35-day notice nearly six months ago.

According to Secretary Bhattarai, the process of amending the Act has already been initiated.

The government´s bid to enforce the land reform act would mean distributing land in excess of ceiling to the landless. "If the legal provisions are implemented sincerely, he landless would get land and the trend of deforestation would be controlled," Basnet added.

As per the Land Reform Act (Fifth Amendment), a person can own 20 ropanis of land in Kathmandu Valley, 10 bighas in the Tarai districts and 70 ropanis in Hill districts. Likewise, a person can own five ropanis in Kathmandu Valley and the Hill districts and one bigha in the Tarai for homestead purposes.

Before the amendment to the act, an individual could own a maximum of 50 ropanis in Kathmandu Valley and 20 bighas in the Tarai.

Advocate Basnet had filed a contempt case after government officials failed to collect within 180 days particulars concerning those owing land over the ceiling, as directed by the apex court on January 20, 2010. The contempt case is pending at the SC.

source:Gautam, Bimal(2011),"Land ownership details drive suspended ", republica, 6 March 2011

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