Rural Entitlement and Legal Support

A meeting in progress as a part of land rights related work
Thanks to rural entitlement, a woman stands in her field

The poor and backward people are exploited because of lack of information about law. They are also not aware of the provisions made in their interest and then they are left behind in developmental processes. The problems get compounded when their basic requirements are not met.

The Ashram imparts knowledge at regular intervals of special provisions meant for villagers and also provides legal advice to the rural people. Whenever a need was felt, specific information was given and training was organised.

The work area of the Ashram was full of land record anomalies. Several people had usurped land of poor farmers. The forest and revenue department maps showed a good amount of overlap. Before the problems could be solved, a drive was launched by the Forest Department in 1980, to uproot the people settled on pieces of forest land under section 20 and 4.

The people and the Ashram both were much disturbed. Hence the Ashram decided to carry out detailed studies on 4 issues – land problems, irregular functioning of primary schools, fair price grain shops’ functioning and bonded labour. This laid the foundation of the Rural Entitlement Programme. A writ was filed in the Supreme Court in 1982 to address 2 issues:

  • Rights on the land of section 4 of the Forest Act, and
  • Freedom of bonded labour. For the other 2 issues, state level advocacy was resorted to.

As a result, the situation of primary schools improved. The Ashram itself ran the ration shops in 1983-84 and made grains and kerosene available in the remotest areas. Later, villagers themselves started managing fair price shops.

The Supreme Court ordered the Uttar Pradesh Government to free and rehabilitate bonded labour. With the assistance of BSA, almost 1,500 bonded labourers were freed.

The hearing on Section 4 continued in the Supreme Court till 1993. In 1986, the Supreme Court appointed a three-member Commission for land rights entitlement. One of the members of this commission was Prembhai. The court also appointed legal advisors for the villagers. The government team consisted of 6 courts of Additional District Judges and 25 Assistant Record Officers and 1 Record Officer.

Considerable energy and money of the Ashram and villagers was spent. The bright side, however, was that a very large number of cases were settled through Lok Adalat system.