Tens of thousands of marchers converging on the Indian capital Delhi in pursuit of land reform called off their protest today (11 October), following Government agreement to their demands.
Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh publicly signed the agreement in front of marchers as they gathered in Agra, Uttar Pradesh this morning.
Some 60,000 marchers, mainly socially marginalised dalits and tribal people, began the 200-mile Jan Satyagraha march from Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh to Delhi last week. They were due to reach the capital later this month.
The new deal gives statutory backing to the provision of agricultural land to the landless poor in the poorer districts. In addition, the Government will urge states to protect the land rights of dalits, tribals and "all other weaker and marginalised sections of society", and fast track land tribunals will be established to resolve land issues quickly.
The march was organised by Christian Aid partner Ekta Parishad which mobilised some 2,000 civil society groups around the country to provide marchers.
Anand Kumar, Christian Aid’s Country Manager in India said: "Congratulations to Ekta Parishad and the marchers. This is a true example of people’s victory through peaceful negotiation.
"The Jan Satyagraha has demonstrated its confidence in the parliamentary democratic process and was able to engage with the Government to realise just demands for poor and landless in this country."
He concluded: "We are grateful at the extreme care and sensitivity shown by the Minister for Rural Development and the Indian Government in resolving some of the key demands."
The march was the culmination of four years planning by Ekta Parishad which in recent months has held numerous talks with government as it pressed for the implementation of the previously agreed National Land Reforms Policy.
Anand added: "This year’s march built on the successes of one held previously - Janadesh 2007 - when the National Land Reform Committee was established, but they never met to put an agenda in place.
"This time these negotiations must continue between the government and organisations working with the landless poor. Institutional arrangements must be put in place and sufficient time and resources allocated to put this agreement into action.
"Access to land is critical for the eradication of poverty. We hope that today’s success will give hope and inspire other land struggles in other parts of the world.’
The land reform task force is due to meet on 17 October when they will begin to prepare and produce a roadmap for land reform in India.
Ekta Parishad is a network of several grassroots organisations campaigning for the rights to land, and access to control over forest resources for India’s most marginalised communities.