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CDSP-IV improves the coastal livelihoods in Bangladesh

Char Development and Settlement Project-IV (CDSP-IV) operates in the coastal district of Noakhali in Bangladesh. Its development interventions are co-funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the Government of the Netherlands and the Government of Bangladesh. Among other components like water management infrastructure, rural infrastructure, afforestation, productive development, institutional development and community development, this multi-sectoral project prominently concentrates on khas land settlement to the landless households.

In the process of erosion and accretion, the sandbars form landmass in the riverbed and the estuary, either as island or attached to existing land. Such accreted lands are locally called Char in the Bengali language. Char is termed as Khas meaning the state-owned land. Thus, the management of char land or khas land is vested to the Government of Bangladesh.

Chars are low lying lands along the coast of the Bay of Bangle and very vulnerable to floods and cyclones. These are unprotected from the full force of storms and cyclones. Living conditions on newly accreted chars are very poor.  Communication system, service delivery system, private sector and NGOs are hardly present there. Once a char appears newly, the local influential people known as land grabbers occupy the land non-officially. It is almost impossible for one to settle without the concurrence of the land grabbers who claim all or part of a newly accreted char. People migrate on the new chars having lost their lands by river erosions, and get non-official settlement of the char land or khas lands from the local land grabbers. They cannot sustain their livelihoods. This vulnerable and insecure environment calls for a development intervention, and CDSP has been designed towards this end.

CDSP-IV targets the development of about 30,000 hector of char land and the settlement of khas lands to over 20,000 landless households within a period of six-years. According to law of the country, the khas land settlement has 17 lengthy stages. Simplification and restructuring of the settlement process is required for its synchronization with the other development interventions. The project restructures and simplifies the lengthy process of official settlement of khas lands, and makes it more efficient through some adjustments. The whole process of settlement of khas land is officially reduced to two broad stages: plot-to-plot surveys of khas lands as well as identification of the landless households and preparation as well as official handover of the land ownership deeds.

During the plot-to-plot surveys, a household is identified as landless if it has no homestead and cultivable land, but depends on agriculture; or if an agriculture-dependant household has a homestead of up to 10 decimals of land of their own. Such a landless household is entitled to the official settlement of an average of 1.5 acres of khas land. Some households get legal titles to the land which they have already been possessing, some households get more land than what they have been possessing, if the amount of possessed land does not exceed the official ceiling, some households who do not possess any land beforehand receive some land, some households have to surrender the excess land occupied by them beyond the official ceiling. A landless household is not entitled to the settlement of khas land twice. Almost all char dwellers are landless by way of river erosions and deserves to get char land or khas land.

The plot-to-plot land survey is a census of the households. It is instrumental in the identification and selection of the landless households for settlement. It resolves the land disputes and personal enmities, ensures actual possessions of the lands and encourages good neighbourliness.

After the survey, preparation of the land ownership deeds begins. This stage is completed by verifying of the land records, filling out of some official templates and holding public hearings for disputes resolution in a participatory way. The land ownership deeds are formally executed between the recipients and the Deputy Commissioner, the authorised officer of the Government.The deeds are legal documents, registered jointly in the name of wives and husbands of the poor households. In the land title document, wife’s name is written first; then the name of her husband. In case of divorce and repression by the husband, the land settlement will be cancelled.Khas land, settled to the landless households on permanent basis, is not transferable except by inheritance only. The land settlement process is concluded through handing over the official land ownership deeds to the beneficiaries.

In line with the law of the country, distribution of khas lands among the landless households is being carried out. The Deputy Commissioner of Noakhali District is the Project Director of this component. He is an officer of the Republic and Government of Bangladesh has authorised him to validate the whole process of khas land settlement. Thus, the settlement process gets a strong legal basis. The local people and elected local Members of Parliament are very much supportive of this activity. The official system for land settlement minimizes the risk of settlers losing the land that they have been allocated. The legal committees on the management of khas lands at the district and sub-district level includes the official and non-official members, public representatives and NGOs to safeguard the interests of settlers. Problems, risks, obstacles are resolved with joint efforts of the district & sub-district administrators of the Government, local elected representatives and other stakeholders.The assumption that the local power brokers will usurp the lands from the settlers is not a reality. There is no evidence that the local elites have been able to circumvent this process to grab the land for them. So, there is no foreseeable risk for the implementation and operation of this component. 

The project constructs some clustered villages on large blocks of khas land for rehabilitation of the destitute families. Each household gets 16 decimal of homestead land, a share of a common pond and a tin-shed house. It also undertakes computerization of the land record system in the project area for facilitating access to the updates of land records, and for stopping improper alterations of land records and illegal interference. 

Khas land settlement brings about a qualitative change in the lives of the poor landless households in many ways. The official land titles give them a sense of social security and free them from exploitations by the local land brokers. As land is the most critical resource in the char area, access to land is considered as a basic tool of empowerment. It enhances their negotiating power. A joint land title in the name of both wife and husband strengthens the wife’s position in her family. This provision asserts women empowerment. The legal land titles help the settlers plan medium and long term investments on their lands. They build better houses, grow homestead vegetables, rear livestock and explore the opportunities for fish cultivation in ponds. They create their own employments, increase their incomes and sustain their improved livelihoods.

Project phase

Land  ownership deeds distribution (No of households)

Land settlement  (in acre)

Remarks

CDSP-I

4,494

5,524

Period 1994 to June 2010

CSDP-II

7,837

11,725

Period June 2000 to June 2010

CDSP-III

3,545

3,900 (approx)

Period Oct 2005 to June 2010

CDSP-IV

-

-

Going on with a target of land settlement to  20,000 landless households

Total

15,876

21,149

 

Status of khas land settlement under CDSP-I, II & III, Source: CDSP TA Team 

For overall improvement of the livelihoods of khas land settlers, the peripheral water management infrastructure as embankments, sluices, drainages and internal infrastructure as cyclone shelters, houses, clustered villages, rural roads are built. In addition, deep tube wells and sanitary latrines are installed. The targeted households are given training supports for field and homestead crops production and livestock rearing. Afforestation goes on for climate change mitigation. Field level institutions like Polder & Sub-polder Management Committees, Water Management Committees, Tube wells Users Groups etc are functioning. Partner NGOs are working for community development.

References: The project documents & publications of CDSP TA team

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