POST TIME: 4 March, 2018 00:00 00 AM
Draft law to protect farmlands ready
Cabinet nod likely this month

Draft law to protect farmlands ready

Seventeen years after the idea was first mooted, the government has drafted a law with the provision for three years imprisonment or Tk 3 lakh fine or both to protect the country’s cropland from grabbers. Sources in the ministry concerned said the draft law to protect agricultural lands and ensure their proper use will be placed before the cabinet this month. Taking advantage of the absence of any arable land protection act, most of the multi-crop farmlands around different cities and district towns, such as Dhaka, Narayanganj, Munshiganj, Gazipur, Narsingdi, Mymensingh, Chittagong, Sylhet, Rajshahi, Bogra, Barisal, Comilla, Khulna, Tangail and Manikganj, are being filled up with sand for housing projects and industrial units by a section of unscrupulous people. This is endangering the environment, including food security.

According to sources, the government formed a "National Land Use Committee", headed by then Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in 2001, to ensure proper use of land.

Now, finally, the draft of a new law titled "Agricultural Land Protection and Land Use Act 2016" has been prepared to protect the country’s valuable fertile land from land-grabbers. The draft suggests three years’ imprisonment, or Tk. 3 lakh as fine, or both as punishment for those breaking the law.

The land ministry had taken the initiative in 2001 to ban construction of houses and industrial units on multi-crop farmlands, but failed to formulate a law in the last 17 years.

The first meeting of the National Land Use Committee was held after 14 years on February 25, 2015, with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the chair, after the National Land Use Policy was formulated on June 21, 2001.

At least 36 directives were issued at the meeting for proper utilisation of multi-crop land, sources said.

According to sources, at least 26.56 lakh acres of farmlands shifted to the non-agricultural sector between 2003 and 2013. Over 661 acres of agricultural land are being changed to non-agricultural sector per day, the sources added.

The nature of most of the agricultural land is being changed to construct houses and provide for contract farming, shrimp cultivation, housing societies and brick kilns, environment ministry sources said.

According to the proposed law, no one will be able to change the classification of agricultural land without prior permission of the proper authorities; any violation of the rule would be a punishable offence.

“We have already finalised the Agricultural Land Protection and Land Use Act 2016. This draft law will be placed before the Cabinet in March for approval,” Abdul Jalil, secretary of the land ministry, told The Independent last week.

If anybody wants to erect structures outside the zone, they would have to take permission from the appropriate authorities, he said.

“The farmers, workers and women have saved the country. But a section of land grabbers are killing them by destroying their multi-crop land,” NAP leader Pankaj Bhattacharya told this correspondent.

According to the Bureau of Statistics (2007–08), the nation had only 77.65 crore hectares of farmlands, and farmlands were being reduced at the rate of 0.66 per cent annually across the country because of the construction of houses and industrial units.

Construction of houses and industrial units would be banned on any arable land that yields three crops, two crops or a single crop, according to the proposed draft law.

“The nature of land cannot be changed. No one would be allowed to construct houses, industrial units, kilns, factories and other establishments by destroying farmlands,” says the draft law. The draft further says neither the government nor private organisations can acquire arable land that yields three or two crops at any cost.

However, the government first took steps to enact a new law titled “Agricultural Land Protection and Land Zoning Act” in 2010 to ban the construction of houses and industrial units on farmlands to arrest their fast depletion under the bulldozers of developers.