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Council for Agrarian Reforms launched in Punjab

RECORDER REPORT

LAHORE: The Agrarian Reforms Council, an independent 'think tank' for proposing recommendations for reviewing land and agrarian policies in Punjab, was launched here on Saturday.

The launching ceremony was attended by over 80 participants, including Parliamentarians, civil society activists, journalists, peasants and people belonging to different sections of society who endorsed the initiative.

The meeting was organized by the National Peasants' Coalition of Pakistan (NPCP) and Society for Conservation and Protection of Environment (SCOPE) in collaboration with South Asia Partnership-Pakistan, Anjuman Falah-e-Niswan, Sahiwal, and Oxfam.

Mian Yawar Zaman , Punjab Minister of Irrigation, PML-N Member of Punjab Assembly Fauzia Yaqoob Qureshi, Shazad Cheema, ex-MPA of PPP, Mehboob Ali Khan from Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Farooq Tariq (Awami Workers Party), Fauzia Viqar, Chairperson of Punjab Commission on the Status of Women, Dr Shahid Zia, Managing Director of RBDC, Asad Jamal, advocate, and others attended the meeting.

It was shared by the organizers that the Agrarian Reforms Council was founded on the premise that no single set of policy initiatives by this government could be as significant as land and agrarian reforms for providing sustainable livelihoods to the poor majority in the agriculture sector in Punjab, and by linkage, to those in the rest of the country. Hence, the overall objective of the Council is to develop rural economy of Punjab and tackle the widespread poverty in the province through strengthening agriculture and supporting the rights of farmers and peasants (landless peasants/workers).

Other specific objectives are to strengthen the Punjab government in developing effective land and agrarian policies in the wake of provincial autonomy attained after the 18th Constitutional Amendment, to develop common understanding on issues related to farmers, peasants, land, food security, irrigation and agriculture as well as on the need to reforming related policies and laws as per new ground realities, to prioritize the issues to be considered for the short and long term, to gather data and through data-based analysis, provide issue based precise recommendations to the government for reviewing the related policies of Punjab, to launch an "MPA's Caucus in the Punjab Assembly" who will lobby and promote the Council's recommendations for policy change, members of the Council to decide its structure and chairperson.

General Secretary of Awami Workers Party Farooq Tariq said growers were being given very low wages and were being considered as slaves. He condemned the attitudes of the feudal class towards tenants. He appreciated the initiative to launch the agrarian reform council.

Mehboob Khan from Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said that the agriculture act must be addressed at different forms and the peasant organization should be considered as trade union. Land must be distributed among landless peasants. A five- year plan should be enforced through policy and planning programs for farmers and peasants.

The Council will comprise of politicians/ members of the National Assembly and the Senate, senior civil society experts and technocrats, academics, judiciary members (retired judges/lawyers), media persons, farmers/ peasants.

The "Punjab Agrarian Reforms Council" would be an independent organization, comprised of heterogeneous membership which will take into consideration all the prioritized issues of the agriculture sector in Punjab.

The Council will prioritize and take up few urgent issues at the moment, but over the time it may broaden its scope to cover a wide range of agro-economic and environment policy issues ranging from rural infrastructure and agri-marketing to issues pertaining to comprehensive land and agrarian reforms. The Council's deliberations would be intended to improve policy discussions among policymakers, journalists and the general public with the hope that wiser policy decisions will result.

This was highlighted that the Council's mandate and objectives were agreed unanimously. The participants including Parliamentarians, civil society activists, journalists and learned people belonging to different sections of society present in the meeting and some others who have failed to attend but gave their consent have now become the General Body of the "Punjab Agrarian Reforms Council".

It was decided to hold another meeting within a month to constitute an executive body of the Council which will comprise MPAs and influential leaders of civil society (peasantry, CSOs, media, academia, judiciary, etc.) who will pursue the prioritized issues in parliament and other policy-making as well as implementation institutions/forums.

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