Proper Land use legislations for Rebuilding Kerala is necessary

Land Reforms legislation in Kerala was a watershed event and served a huge socio-economic purpose. But fifty years on, Kerala has done little to maximize the use of land in terms of productivity, housing, industries, forests etc. Whilst retaining the spirit of the Land Reforms, it must be examined how economies of scale can be achieved with all its attendant benefits of higher productivity by planned land use.

It’s pertinent that urban and rural areas must have a guideline for personal, industrial and civic use. As a state, do we really have a master plan for land use to serve as a guideline for corporations, municipalities and panchayats keeping in mind the density of population, topography, natural features and local needs? Admittedly, there ought to be a ‘zoning’ approach to planning. This is necessary to prevent geo-climatic disasters and reduce its impact on people.

Our higher density of population and lower land availability vis a vis other states is a reality and should call for pragmatic solution to development needs with regard to human aspirations. This calls for an interface management using adaptive techniques leveraging on technology. Industrial parks must ensure air, water pollution control measures, especially when habitation around industrial areas cannot be averted due to population/land availability.

Developed nations are assiduously following the principle of environmental rights of nature, such that their identity and features are not tampered with. India, too, has instituted legal rights for rivers like Ganges, for instance. There ought to be synergy between environmental laws and local body rules, for pragmatic interpretation and effective implementation. Emission tax based on carbon emission of buildings is a case in point.

From an agricultural standpoint, carbon sequestration of crops should be quantified and monetised. (Carbon sequestration or carbon dioxide removal (CDR) is the long-term removal, capture or sequestration of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to slow or reverse atmospheric CO2 pollution and to mitigate or reverse global warming.) In the case of rubber, the carbon sequestration capability at 3 tons of carbon dioxide per hectare has been documented by research. A monetisation mechanism for this will go a long way in mitigating the woes of rubber farmers suffering the burden of a low price realization.

Consumer preference for safe food will drive the future of agriculture. FSSAI norms are weak while dealing with pesticide residue standards, rampant in fruits and vegetables. In organised agriculture such as plantations there’s a systematic approach to ensuring product safety by containing plant protection residues to conform to national and international standards. These include both governmental guidelines and field discipline in terms of the type of pesticides used, dosage and spray volume, safe harvest interval etc.

Eventually organic farming and very importantly strict certification standards covering the same may ensure full food safety and ecological health. However, the transition needs to be handled carefully since yields will drop and farmers income will suffer (the increased price realisation will not compensate crop yield reduction). The key issue will be to create market access, of a sufficient degree especially based on product differentiation driven by unique bio diversity features and people issues, to seek higher values among upmarket clientele, nationally and internationally. This will call for a project modular approach.

Conformity to Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) especially those relating to soil/water conservation must be set as firm guideline for agriculture having regard to the huge cost, in all its entirety, of massive soil and water erosion. It may be appropriate to point out here that the plantations suffer very little soil erosion because of its soil binding and scientific system of planting notwithstanding the ills of mono cropping.

Use of slopes must be well thought of in agriculture as in construction. Guidelines will be required to suit type of cropping to degree of slope, so that soil binding gets priority. Soil and water conservation measures in farm lands are labour intensive and expensive and will be typically beyond the capabilities of the average farmer. Fragmented land holdings will prevent economies of scale that can be brought about by mechanization.

Production companies, co-operative farming etc. need to be given a good thought. The same is the case with exemptions of Plantations from Land Ceilings Act because of the organised nature of this form of agriculture, supporting huge employment and rural economies.

Crop rotation, inclusion of other crops within the purview of this exemption will facilitate bio diversity and help the financial sustainability of Plantations in the interests of all stakeholders. All legislations are time bound and must be subject to review of its spirit and its contemporary relevance.

People’s participation is a challenge in matters like waste management, especially fresh from the Bramhapuram experience. In the past, the Homesteads that we lived in hardly had any inorganic waste and all organic waste was effectively used as farm yard manure. Non organic waste has increased over time due to change in consumption patterns.

Sensitisation and awareness building especially in dealing with noxious materials like plastic need to be stepped up, making use of visual media and social media. Awareness must precede implementation of rules for maximum effectiveness. Waste management is best achieved in a decentralised mode. This will break people’s undue expectation of governmental role. Every homestead can be a model unit unto itself on recycling and waste management. Role of large organisations in taking up appropriate CSR activities to support such initiatives can also be a good way forward.

In an increasingly digitalising India, equality in services and consequently justice to all must be a welcome way forward for the common man. Access of justice to all: e-information and digitalisation is bringing in the much needed information sharing and transparency in the public domain. Uploading complaint on line and consequent grievance redressal has now become common place to monitor public utilities and government regulated private services.

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