The latest proposed welfare offering by the UPA government at the Centre free homes to shelterless rural poor is not just a misled policy,but also a gross abdication of the governments core responsibility. While there is a genuine and pressing need for land reforms in the country,the proposed National Right to Homestead Bill,2013,which promises every landless and homeless poor family in rural areas a homestead of not less than 10 cents (0.1 acre or 4,356 sq ft),is far from the focused policy intervention needed.
To begin with,the scheme,though much on the lines of other entitlement-based programmes like the flagship MGNREGS is much more prone to fraud and corruption given the very nature and magnitude of its entitlement. Specified manual labour and minimal wages under the MGNREGS ensures that only those in distress seek work under it,thus minimising chances of false claimants.
However,the proposed Homestead Bill remains vulnerable to misuse and serious leakages. Given the high incentive of land involved,it is possible that many ineligible households will try to stake claim by bribing officials and looking for loopholes to skirt the eligibility norms.
Two,making such quantum of land available will never be easy. Some of the states with very high rural poverty are also those with extremely high population densities Bihar and UP being a case in point. In such conditions,providing at least 10 cents of land to each poor shelterless rural household even those living on rent is both overly ambitious and impractical. Also,what about homelessness in urban areas,given the dynamic relationship between the rural poor and urban spaces as a result of increased migration?
Further,there is the question of feasibility and sustainability of free lunches. While targeted welfare policies are needed in any emerging economy,there has to be a more clever way of implementing them than simply giving out doles. Tempting as it may be ahead of crucial Lok Sabha elections next year,and as great a problem as landlessness is,the government must refrain from gimmickry that is nothing but a flawed quick-fix solution to a serious,deep-rooted problem.
Ruhi is a special correspondent based in Delhi