EDUCATING COMMUNITIES AT THE DISTRICT LEVEL TO CLAIM THEIR LAND RIGHTS

It has been a year since the Government of Nepal established the Land Issues Resolving Commission (LIRC) to advance land tenure security for local communities. The process, however, involves many stakeholders and requires a long-term commitment.

In this regard, ILC members in Nepal the Community Self Reliance Centre (CSRC) and National Land Rights Forum (NLRF) organised awareness-raising workshops from 1 – 14 March 2021 in 31 districts across the country. Working alongside the District Land Rights Forums (DLRFs), the workshops served as part of a campaign to educate landless communities, informal settlers, frontline land rights activists, and government authorities about the latest progressive provisions included in land-related policies.

CSRC, NLRF, and the Consortium for Land Research and Policy Dialogue (COLARP), have been supporting the local governments and LIRC in data collection other technical facilitation. While working in the field and identifying land titles, the three organisations, which were also involved in ILC’s National Engagement Strategy (NES) in Nepal, came across multiple issues specific to different places and communities, for which there was no solution provided in the related policy documents. The workshops, therefore, aimed to address these issues, especially in districts that were more vulnerable to land problems such as landlessness and informal tenure.

In addition, NES members also felt the need to ensure that no one was left behind in the data collection process. The workshops also provided an opportunity to engage with frontline land rights activists through LIRC’s district- and local-level committees.

Since its establishment in April 2020, the concern of all stakeholders has been focused on distributing land to the landless communities and Dalits and formalising the informal operation of land with legal ownership. To date, the LIRC has signed Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) with around 250 out of 753 local governments across the country.

The district-level workshops managed to attract about 1,890 participants, including indigenous and Dalit groups. During the workshops, many participants were eager to learn more about the process to recognise their right to land and the qualifications to get state benefits for the landless and informal settlers. The workshop committee ensured that a common understanding was put in place to avoid any misinformation among the local communities. It was emphasised that the District Land Rights Forums were to be the connecting door between the Government and local communities.

The following are some of the main issues raised during the workshops:

  • Documenting the cases related to incomplete tasks of the previous committees or taskforce or commissions of the government
  • Conflicting views on documenting the details of the people residing within and around National Parks, Reserves, and buffer zone areas since the National Parks and Forest Departments have been denying the rights of the land users in such areas.
  • Recording the data of communities who have been using and working on their land despite the land being registered under different parties.
  • Households who have lost land due to floods, landslides, and infrastructure development projects are still recognised as landowners as they possess land certificates.
  • The LIRC is working to settle disputes between informal settlers, landless communities, and local or district administrations as they have been threatened to leave the land that they live on.
  • Conflicting views among different government agencies about distributing unregistered land within forest areas.
  • Lack of identification cards for many people.
  • Many women are separated from their husbands but do not have their divorce papers signed.
  • Migration from the Hill district to Tarai is increasing rapidly with a hope to get land there despite the fact that no one can register applications from more than one place.
  • There are people having small plots registered in their name but instead operating on unregistered land meant to be allocated by the Government for the landless. This prompted the Government to redefine the landless communities to better categorise them.

Conclusion

The sensitisation programme was conducted timely given that land had become a priority issue for local governments in Nepal. The landless communities and informal settlers are excited to receive legal recognition as landowners, however, local governments and land rights activists are a bit anxious as the narrow definitions and legal provisions could pose a challenge if not handled with sensitivity and broader understanding.