. .

1_popup_home.gif (1391 bytes) i&e.gif (7340 bytes)

CE vow to eradicate Jagirdari system

  1. WTO agreement may hit the eng. sector
  2. First press conference of Gen. Pervez Musharraf
  3. OICCI links forex inflow with business confidence
  4. Re-structuring the economy
  5. CE vow to eradicate jagirdari system

Adds this item on his agenda while addressing Pakistani workers in UAE during his visit to Abu Dhabi

From Shamim Ahmed Rizvi, Islamabad
Nov 08 - 14, 1999

Addressing the Pakistani workers in Abu Dhabi last week the Chief Executive, General Pervez Musharraf, vowed to root out the feudal and Jagirdari system from the country. The addition of this item on his already daunting agenda of economic reforms is highly welcomed. It is a matter of satisfaction that an army general has reached the root cause of all economic and political ills, facing the country. Economic and political reforms of any kind cannot last long if this class of manipulators which has proved to be breeding source of the multifarious ills besetting the country, is not eliminated. However, this task is more demanding then other items on General's agenda like recovery of stuck up loans, revival of nation economy, eradication of corruption and strengthening the federation. While dealing with feudals General will have to take extra care because this class is highly cunning and manipulative and their tentacles are deep and wide.

Feudalism has undoubtedly proved to be a curse for the country, as power has, in one way or the other, revolved around the feudal class, which has emerged as the major exploiter of the national resources over the past half a century. The culture of loot, plunder, tax evasion, non-payment of bank loans and political manipulation and somersaults has remained its hallmark, as the feudal lords have always dominated the country's parliamentary scenario, at the local, provincial and national levels. They have hardly ever stood by scruples and morality, in the face of selfish and class interests and liberally contributed towards the nation's political, democratic and economic ills over the decades. Ironically, while the feudal lords legislated to impose taxes for the whole nation, they conveniently manipulated to save themselves from any direct tax for half a century. Isn't it a national tragedy that the feudal class had circumvented the land reforms introduced thrice in the country and still masquerade in the corridors of power with an equal brazen ease in military regimes and democratic dispensations. We therefore, welcome the Chief Executive's pledge to root out the feudal system, which has been the root cause of the country's problems almost in all spheres of national life.

Comprehensive land reforms are indispensable for any basic change in Pakistan's political and economic system. Without such reforms, the nation may remain locked in a virtual political and economic paralysis. Periodic elections will bring little change, as many of the same people will be recycled through the legislatures, whatever their party labels or affiliations. Major economic reforms will keep waiting, as the feudal system generally believes in economic patronage rather than in good governance. Any enlightened social changes will be held hostage to the inherent conservation of a feudal society.

The recent experience of many other countries is fairly illuminating. Let's just focus on Asia. South Korea's spectacular economic advance in the last three decades was based on land reforms and mass education. Indian Punjab has beaten Pakistan's Punjab by a wide margin in raising agricultural yields in the last five decades, principally because of meaningful land reforms, widespread education and agricultural research at Ludhiana University. China dismantled its agricultural commune system in 1979—even though the communes did not exploit the cultivators the way our landlord system does—and the emergence of owner-cultivation and private incentives has increased economic growth in China in the last 16/17 years at a pace which is the envy of the world. In most other countries as well, land reforms have been vital for economic and political change. In Pakistan, land reforms are needed not only to increase incentives for higher production by owner cultivators but also to change the political system.

Pakistan has already made two failed attempts at land reforms. In 1959, President Ayub fixed a land ownership ceiling of 500 acres of irrigated land and 1000 acres of unirrigated land. But a large number of exemptions were provided for orchards as well as for transfer of land to heirs. In actual practice, less than 2.5 million acres were acquired for distribution which benefited roughly 8% of subsistence farmers. These land reforms failed to loosen the stranglehold of the landlords on the political and economic system of Pakistan. Another attempt was made by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1972, when the land ownership ceiling was reduced to 150 acres irrigated and 300 acres unirrigated. There were few exceptions allowed and the reforms looked very strong on paper. But their impact was totally diluted in actual implementation. Much of their land was retained by the landlords in the name of many family members and sometimes in fictitious names. Less than 0.9 million acres of land was acquired for distribution—about one-third of the land acquired in the Ayub reforms. Despite high expectations, the actual results were meagre.

What went wrong in each case was not the original intention but the subsequent implementation. The fatal flaw in both cases was the same; the ruling class that was supposed to implement land reforms was also the class that was going to be adversely affected by them. It was triumph of optimism over experience to think that the ruling landlord class will commit a collective suicide. This dilemma still haunts us. It is easier to articulate what needs to be done. It is almost impossible to identify a realistic way of doing it.

It is necessary today to prepare yet another blue print for comprehensive land reforms in Pakistan, learning from the experience of other countries. The heart of any such reforms must be the principle that the tiller of the soil must become the real owner of the soil. And the tiller must be supported by a liberal supply of agricultural credit, suitable fertilizer and needs, correct price incentives, appropriate technology and adequate marketing facilities so that he can raise his agricultural yields to international levels.

If all cultivators wish to acquire some land, the ceiling for ownership must be kept fairly low, considering the existing pressure of population on land. An upper ceiling of around 12.5 acres for irrigated land will be quite appropriate in this context. In fact, much lower ceilings have been adopted in several countries. For rain-fed areas, the ceiling may have to be 25 acres. These ceilings should apply to family ownership to prevent holding of large amounts of land in the name of family members. It is wrong to believe that commercial farming requires large farms. In fact, experience shows that small farms have been extremely productive in many countries because the tiller can taken timely decisions, contrary to an absentee landlord, and the benefits of higher yields accrue directly to him.

At present, over 60% of the agricultural area in Pakistan is in holdings above the ceiling of 12.5 acres. Of the 47 million acres of cultivated land, 32 million acres are in holdings of over 12.5 acres. If land reforms are strictly implemented, millions of haris and mazaras can benefit from the distribution of land. What is more, sweeping land reforms will greatly erode the present overwhelming economic and political power of the rural elite and finally empower the poor peasantry in the country.