The Kerala government on Sunday, 14 May, distributed title deeds of land to 67,069 landless people. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan termed it part of a scheme aimed at ending landlessness in the state. He urged everyone to stand together for equitable socio-economic development.
“Extremely happy to have distributed land titles to 67,069 landless people in Kerala as part of the LDF government’s 100-day Action Programme. With 2.99 lakh titles distributed in seven years, we’re taking giant strides towards the goal of ending landlessness in Kerala,” Vijayan said in a tweet.
Speaking to South First, Kerala’s Minister for Revenue and Housing K Rajan explained how he and his team cleared the hurdles within the system to provide a record number of title deeds in a single year.
He also spoke about the government’s vision for the distribution of land and about the ambitious projects of the Kerala government that the department will roll out shortly. Edited excerpts from the interview.
Q. The distribution of title deeds has been the government’s top priority. Could you explain the land distribution system in Kerala?
A. Last year, we distributed 54,535 title deeds. We will increase it to 67,079 in the coming year, and we will be starting a Pattayam (title deed) Mission.
Since our government came to power, the important slogan has been ‘Land for Everyone, Proof for all Land, and All Services Will Become Smart’.
Land issues complicate Kerala’s situation. To solve the issue, initially, the LDF government conducted two revenue assemblies: A revenue assembly included a district’s MLAs and revenue survey officers, who heard the people’s grievances. After each revenue assembly, there would be a Pattayam dashboard and it would have all the grievances raised by the MLAs. Our concern was to solve these issues at the earliest.
To solve the issues in land tribunals, we have imparted special training to officers to quickly address complaints. Each week we are conducting a revenue secretariat which is presided over by the revenue minister, similar to a Cabinet. The Revenue Secretariat constantly analyses digital resurvey and the distribution of land titles. We looked at areas where lesser title deeds were distributed and took steps to rectify the issues in those areas.
In districts, to solve grievances raised during the meetings held by the revenue officers, we have created a separate cell. At present, we have additional land-related taluk land boards. There are 77 such taluk land boards. Deputy collectors are the chairpersons of the taluk land boards.
However, since the taluk land board will be their second priority — the first being disaster management, elections, revenue recovery, land acquisition, etc. Taking this into consideration, we divided Kerala’s taluk land board into four and each land board was given to one deputy collector. He has no other responsibilities apart from working on the taluk land board.
Q. What led to the delay in allotting land titles?
A. We identified a hundred issues which have been ongoing for the past 50 to 70 years. We worked on them to ease the legal procedures to solve these issues. For example, one of the land deeds which was given was in an area called Mura in Kannur district.
In 1958, the EMS Namboodiripad government had given the temporary land deeds, but those were not permanent documents. In that area, 27 people were given one acre each by EMS, which has become 135 people now, including the latter generations. In the last 60 years, we were unable to solve their issues. This year we analysed that they belong to the Taliparamba municipality and there was a law that they cannot be given more than 10 cents.
We discussed the issue in the Cabinet and used special powers vested in it to distribute land deeds.
Also, for instance, at Wadakkanchery in Thrissur, an issue has been going on for 56 years. The residents of Telungar Colony have been demanding land for more than 50 years. Their ancestors had come to Kerala from Andhra Pradesh for work. We took up the issue and solved it by giving land deeds to 24 families.
All credit to the Revenue Department officials, who worked tirelessly to achieve this goal. Most land deeds — 17,781 — were given in the Palakkad district, followed by Malappuram (12,000) and Thrissur (11,122).
We are taking care of even minute factors to solve the grievances of the people. Now, our focus will be on the Pattayam Mission.
Q. How is Pattayam Mission different from the work that is being carried out now?
A. We are starting the Pattayam Mission hoping to give land titles to more people in the coming years. Pattayam Mission is different from the earlier projects. The available government land is usually divided among different departments, such as the Public Works Department, Local Self-government Department, Water Authority or Electricity.
The unused land in the possession of these departments for a long time is used for this project. This land will then be allotted to people.
Q. How effective is the Kerala State Land Bank project?
A. The land bank is a system that takes over land available to the people. We are going ahead with that project.
We will be filing 62 cases against estate owners who are in illegal possession of the land after the country was officially formed. We have given the responsibility to a lawyer and eight cases have already been mentioned before the court. We aim to take over those lands and distribute it among the needy.
Thus, our goal is not merely to give land deeds to people who already occupy land but do not have ownership rights. We are also aiming at providing land to those who don’t even possess the land. They usually live on rent and have to constantly shift from one location to another. We will work towards securing these peoples’ future by giving them land.
Q. Will the government take an effort to give land titles to non-native labourers as well?
A. Our concern should not be for the well-being of only Malayalis, but the well-being of all the people living in the state. The migrant labourers have voting rights here, then what is the problem in giving them land? Providing land titles to migrant labourers could be considered.
Q. What are the other major upcoming projects?
A. One of the important projects of the Revenue Department is the Digital Resurvey. By using modern survey equipment, Kerala will be completely digitalized in four years.
As part of the plan, three portals will be combined. These are the Revenue Department’s ReLis, the registration department’s PEARL and the survey department’s E-Maps. There will be a new portal called Ente Bhoomi, providing end-to-end services.
We will complete the digital survey of 15 villages in July, and a total of 1,550 villages in Kerala will be surveyed in the next four years. This is an ambitious project to completely digitalise land details in the state.
(The interview has been edited and condensed).