Peoples Caravan in Gorkha district

Elderly women in Gorkha demanding their reconstruction needs at the People's Caravan in Gorkha district. Photo by: Prerana Marasini/Oxfam

Relief for landless to rebuild their houses

More than 90,000 earthquake-affected families  who did not get any grant to rebuild their damaged houses are finally heaving a sigh of relief. They do not need to show the land ownership certificates anymore, to claim the reconstruction grant. This will help landless people tremendously in recovering from the 2015 earthquake.

Thanks to the recent policy amendment by the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA), it now allows people living in unregistered land such as trustee and grantee land, (locally called guthee or birtaa) to get government’s reconstruction grants. They can either show their utility bill payment slip or produce two neighbors’ statements that verify that they had been actually living in that piece of unregistered land. The NRA initially made provisions for reconstruction grant of NRS 300,000 only when people could show land ownership documents.

This excluded all 94,481 people living in unregistered land, informal land, squatters, unregistered tenant farmland. These were the poor and underprivileged people barred from any help to reconstruct their houses. A portion of them were living in tents or in camps as they had nowhere to go. With the earthquake they simply lost everything. They filed their grievances at the local offices to plea for support from the Government.

Chhatra Bahadur Tamang from Bhedpu village development committee in Dolakha District considers this policy amendment as a great victory.  “I have been struggling for more than 25 years visiting land revenue offices, trustee organizations and dealing with government offices urging them to register the trustee land under the names of the families who have been living there for generations. This policy amendment is not only a victory for my struggle but all the 1313 families of Bhedpu VDC.” With the policy amendment, Chhatra and the rest will get land documents and also the government grants to build their houses.

Oxfam and its partners, specifically Community Self-Reliance Centre (CSRC) and Humanitarian Accountability Monitoring Initiative (HAMI) had been campaigning and lobbying for the inclusion of these people since the first year of the earthquake. Finally in January 2017, the NRA amended 'Working Procedure on Grant Distribution on building private houses to 2015 earthquake victims’ which has relaxed  the earlier provision.  This policy change is expected to benefit at least 94,481 families living in earthquake affected districts. Oxfam and CSRC’s Nepal Land Rights Forum (NLRF) are working with 12,955 families by helping them in submitting their land registration application in the respective district land revenue offices. This change will benefit at least 5,400 families.

Robin Tamang, a social mobiliser in Satyadevi VDC of Dhading says many people have now answers to their long unanswered question. “People used to ask us: ‘Are we not eligible to get the government grants if we don’t have land documents?’ We didn’t have convincing answers for this earlier but now we have. The whole village is happy with the policy amendment,” Tamang says.

Ward Citizen Committee Convener of Dhading, Tanka Bahadur Pulami Magar, is also relieved. “All the grievances had to be handled by us,” says he adding, “Now that the government has made a favorable policy for those who do not have land documents, it is our responsibility to implement it.”

Campaign

The campaign called “Addressing Land Rights in Post-Earthquake Reconstruction (ALRP)” helped build pressure on the government to address the issue of landless people. The ALRP formed District Land Right Forums (DLRFS) in various earthquake affected districts to advocate for families without land ownership certificates. The DLRF frontline leaders were passionate to carry out this campaign as they themselves belonged to earthquake affected landless community. Public awareness campaigns were carried out through local radio programs, public hearings, discussion forums and meetings to highlight the required policy amendments and the process of filing application for land registration. As a result, 12,955 families from 12 earthquake affected districts filed their applications and 4,662 families’ lands have now been registered in the land revenue offices.

Kalpana, representing her district Sindhupalchowk in the advocacy training on land claiming process for reconstruction in Chitwan, Thimura. Photo by: Situ Pradhan/Oxfam

Additionally, People’s Caravan was organized in nine earthquake-affected districts—Rasuwa, Nuwakot, Dhading, Sindhupalchok, Gorkha, Dolakha, Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and Lalitpur. Around 2,500 earthquake affected people including landless and people living in Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps participated in the caravan to pressurize the government to act on their demand for resettlement, land rights and other reconstruction issues.

Still some people are left out

Although the issues of people living on grantee and trustee land have been addressed, there are issues of some indigenous groups such as Chepang who have been living in government land or land next to forests for a long time and they don’t have any land registration certificate. The policy amendment does not give answers to their questions on reconstruction grant. Similar is the question of people living in the squatters for generations.