For Sarvodaya activist Krishnammal Jagannathan land represents freedom. A lifelong Gandhian committed to the philosophy of self-reliance, 85-year-old Krishnammal and her 95-year-old husband S Jagannathan began a movement in 1968 called LAFTI-Land for the tillers’ freedom.
LAFTI started in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu as a non-violent movement to get land from landlords and distribute it to landless peasants. In two decades it has succeeded in redistributing thousands of acres of land to poor and low-caste families.
Krishnammal first thought of the idea in 1968 (the organisation was registered in 1991), when a Muslim trust in Kula Manickam village wanted to sell large tracts of land -- but only to Krishnammal, not to any landlord. Since she didn’t have the money then to buy the land (though she did have access to funds from abroad she could have used), Krishnammal decided it would be best to approach the matter professionally and set up an organisation to access funds.
“The model is actually very simple,” smiles Ariavelam of Ekta Parishad. “The villagers tell Krishnammal how much land is available and where, and who the owner is. Then LAFTI, along with members of the local community, negotiate with the landlord, usually demanding a rate that’s less than the market price.”
An agreement is then signed between the landlord and LAFTI, after which beneficiaries are selected. They have to be poor and landless. The gram sabha sets up a committee to select the beneficiaries. After the selection process, the community collects caste and income certificates, photographs and family card photocopies from the beneficiaries. These are submitted to the local LAFTI office.
On another level, the management at LAFTI begins looking for funds from banks, the Tamil Nadu Adi Dravida Housing and Development Corporation (TAHDCO) and the National SC and ST Financial Housing Development Corporation (NFHDC) that offer subsidies for this purpose (NFHDC offers a loan, while TAHDCO gives a subsidy through the bank). Meanwhile, the landlord submits a photograph, caste certificate, ownership title, encumbrance certificate (EC) and power of attorney to Krishnammal.
NHFDC transfers funds to TAHDCO, which transfers the same to LAFTI. Currently, NFHDC does not give funds to LAFTI but to landowners. It sends a sanction letter to LAFTI and LAFTI, using this letter, applies to the government of Tamil Nadu for exemption from stamp duty. The application has first to be submitted to the tehsildar who forwards it to the secretary of registration, who in turn passes an order exempting LAFTI from stamp duty. TAHDCO then interviews the beneficiary who has to have a photograph of himself/herself, a certificate saying he/she is landless, an income certificate and a caste certificate (his/her income should not be more than Rs 12,000 a year, and he/she has to belong to a scheduled caste or scheduled tribe). The beneficiary must not be more than 50 years old, so an age certificate has to be included. The beneficiary must also be a Hindu dalit.
Then the registration process starts. The registrar of land gives two copies of the registration certificate -- one for TAHDCO and one for LAFTI. The land is then surveyed, marked and handed over to the beneficiary.
When distribution of the land starts, the beneficiary has to pay Rs 5,000 as a first instalment; the rest is paid within five years at the rate of 6% interest per annum. There is no penalty. Before registration there is an agreement between the beneficiary and LAFTI that the land cannot be pledged or sold. When final payment has been made, the original documents relating to the land are handed over to the beneficiary. After registration, each beneficiary gets an individual passbook (he/she repays LAFTI, which then repays TAHDCO).
Till September 2007, around 12,000 people had received 11,066 acres of land. The land is also registered in the names of women in the family. At a recent meeting of the Tamil Nadu Cabinet it was decided to waive stamp duty and registration charges to enable LAFTI to buy 1,061 acres in Nagapattiam to give to landless farmers at the rate of one acre per farmer.
But there’s more to the story than meets the eye…
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Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.