Landlords ready to surrender

November 2, 2010

Agriculture is no longer an easy business to sustain anyway, says a big landlord

KARACHI: Many have been questioning the viability of the Redistributive Land Reforms Bill 2010, proposed by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) recently, but some landlords say they would not mind surrendering their lands if the government offers them a good deal.

“If a land owner is paid compensation at the correct market rate per acre, I think most of them would willingly sell their land,” remarks National Peoples Party MPA Arif Mustafa Jatoi, whose family owns some of the biggest lands in Sindh. “Agriculture is no longer an easy business to sustain anyway.”

But the MQM states that the owner would be paid compensation at the rates determined by the land reforms commission if the bill is passed into law. They are seeking to put an end to the exploitative landlord-tenant relationship, which land owners say is not as bad as the “media paints it to be.”

“It is easy to blame feudals for all the ills our society faces today, but no one really is able to explain how exactly does our existence hinder national progress,” argues Jatoi. “And if the masses really feel we treat our farmers like slaves, why don’t they point the same finger at industrialists who treat their factory-workers similarly?”

In his opinion, the submission of this bill is nothing but a political gimmick by the MQM and that agrarian reforms are needed at this point rather than land reforms – which is already illegal considering the decision of the Shariat Court in 1978 during General Zia’s dictatorship.

Hamir Soomro, a faculty member of Indus Valley School of Arts and Architecture in Karachi and a landlord for his people in Shikarpur, agrees. “The elite in the urban areas are better off than most rural feudals,” he says.

What most people in the urban areas fail to understand is that time has taken care of a lot of things, he adds. Agriculture is now a very volatile business as a result of which most landowners and their children have moved to cities and taken up other jobs that pay much better. They are also able to enjoy better facilities here and are no longer willing to return to their village to take care of their lands.”

Jatoi predicts that in the next decade or so this urbanisation  is expected to further rise as was witnessed during the recent floods. “In this age of globalisation, you cannot control farmers and compel them to stay in rural areas. Due to lack of basic facilities like health and education, many of the poor peasants will eventually move to cities.”

A dead issue?

For this to happen, the government and the opposition should instead take initiatives to ensure rapid industrialisation that will automatically drive the labour force out of the rural areas, say economists.

“Land reforms at this point is a dead issue,” comments senior economist Kaiser Bengali. “Pakistan has missed the bus. What we need now is corporatisation of agriculture.”

By creating a labour shortage, political power of these so-called landlords would gradually wither away as they will no longer have a captive vote-bank to count on who help them win a seat in the national and provincial assemblies, he adds.

Interestingly, however, among the 342 MNAs in the parliament presently, there are only about 60 to 70 feudals, Jatoi points out. “The country can’t possibly feel threatened from this minority. Apart from the Balochistan tribal chieftains, majority of the MNAs from Punjab, Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa hail from urban areas.” “This argument should be more against the feudal mindset than the feudals themselves.”

But the MQM argues that if this was the case then one would not have been exposed to the burden of rural poverty after the floods, which particularly led to the proposal of this bill.

The bill argues that colonisation through barrages by grant of most fertile and large tracts of land to influential absentee zamindars at throwaway prices created a new class of overlords, who earned windfall profits through the hard work and labour of the haris (share-croppers).

Landless to landowners: a step forward

Realising the importance of land in a peasant’s life, senior PPP leader Taj Haider points towards his party’s initiative of land distribution among the haris to address this longstanding issue. The government began implementing the programme in September 2008, under which about 225,000 acres of land was distributed in the first phase in 17 districts of Sindh, mainly among the landless women.

“The state can’t just take away someone’s assets and distribute it among the poor if they are unwilling to do so. There are other alternatives too which the PPP is working on,” he explains. “The floods have destroyed about 22 lakh acres of cultivable land and left another 62 per cent of land waterlogged. Yet we are doing what we can to support them.”

Experts also add that in these trying economic times, the state does not have enough funds to compensate landlords if the present land reforms bill is passed and donors may have to step in to provide the required funds which the government cannot afford to do.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 2nd, 2010.


One comment

  1. we are still living in British Raaj time, most of feudal lords are now become Fir’oon and they beating torturing Haaris like they are not human … its the time to change pakistan for future challenges.

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