In Dr. Tajamul Haque’s untimely demise on 2nd May, India has lost a scholar policy maker, a champion of the causes of farmers, tribal, an advocate of land rights for women and dalits and a messiah for marginal farmers and tenants. With his departure, farmers lost a tireless, fearless advocate at the echelon of power corridors, while for ministers and secretaries, gone now is a highly knowledgeable yet an unassuming pragmatic advisor. Development sector and farmers’ movement would miss an empathetic protagonist, who was always just a phone call away. And for academia, did vanish an easily approachable peer, a smiling guide and an expert, who could effortlessly blend interdisciplinarity, research and practice with a rare mix of humility and brilliance.
India land Ecosystem, an evolving network of land researchers and practitioners, has lost its visionary and exemplary leader in Dr Haque. Be it as an advisor to Landesa, to Rights and Resources Initiative, to Foundation of Ecological Security and to NCAER’s Land Policy Initiative or as National Coordinator of World Bank’s Land Governance Assessment Framework (LGAF), or as Chair, Land Policy Cell, NITI Aayog or Founder-Chair, Annual India Land and Development Conference (ILDC), land actors and institutions in India and across the globe, have been inspired, educated and benefitted by Dr Haque's knowledge, passion, humility & courage to lead and pursue inclusive land rights.
As a crusader of socialist land reform, Dr. Haque has always firmly showed his concerns over the unfinished reform agenda, at the highest levels, critiquing lack of political wills by the states, weak administrative capacity and suggesting pragmatic ways forwards as a policy advisor and member of Planning Commission committees of Land Reform. In the land record digitisation space, he has been there when the first pilot begun in 1988-89 and continue to guide the nodal Department of Land Resources to improve the implementation and impact of Digital India Land Records Modernization Program (DILRMP) over years as the World Bank Advisor, the NITI Aayog Chair as well as the Advisor to NCAER-Land Policy Initiative that brings out Land Record Service Index.
As a committed land rights protagonist, he tirelessly used his networks and knowledge to further women land rights in partnering with the Landesa, convincing various state governments for joint titling and adding women's names as spouses in the land records. He has also guided several policy and action research and advocacy initiatives around gender equitable land governance, improving data ecosystems around women’s land rights and recognising women farmers to ensure their dignity, conducted the Center for Land Governance for the World Bank.
Known as the architect of India’s Land Leasing Reform, he not only drafted the Model Act for Government of India, but as the Chair of NITI Aayog’s Land Policy Cell, worked consistently with the states’ political and land administration leaderships to ensure their enactment in four states and pushing to an advanced stage, in four others. Implementation of leasing reform, he strongly believed, can improve the farming for about 30 million hitherto competitively-disadvantaged tenant farmers, thereby increasing and diversifying farm investment and productions, while also augmenting the tenants’ livelihoods and their dignity as farmers.
In the Forest Rights space, he has guided RRI, Vasundhara and others and coordinated with different State Governments, to improve the recognition of community forest rights. Convinced with the promises of common lands, in improving the local livelihoods and sustaining the ecosystems, he has been assisting the Foundation for Ecological Security (FES) to improve rights, governance, restoration and economic opportunities around the village common lands through enhanced capacity, resource mobilisation and network building.
Overall, Dr. Haque has led, expanded and energised the India’s Land Ecosystem through his vision, wisdom, networks and humility. As the Founder and Chair of India Land and Development Conference, he has brought together academia, civil society, government, private sector, media and students having interest and engagements around India’s Land issue, from across India as well as from outside, to converse, converge and co-create action, research and policy interventions.
Coming from a poor family growing up in remote rural India in the agrarian settlements and later embracing agriculture economics in education and profession, Dr Haque has an uncanny ability to connect to the pulse of the Bharat with the heart of India, that he ultimately worked with as a Policy maker and think tank leader.
As a people’s economist and courageous bureaucrat, he never abandoned ‘land rights’ as a complex and contested issue or something that the state and the market had to be left with. He pursued the agenda of inclusive land reform with his heart and mind, buttressing his opinions and arguments with hard evidence and passion, always keeping the last (wo)man in the forefront, following truly the Gandhi’s Talisman in letter and spirit. True to his name, his fight for people’s land ‘Haq’ or “land rights” of women, tenants, tribal and dalits make him stand tall among his contemporaries despite his short physical structure.
As India and the land community mourn his irreplaceable loss, onus is also on its members, all of us, to continue to follow his teachings, values and carry forward his legacy. Let’s renew our commitments, and walk together on his footsteps with same passion and empathy, to help tens of millions of marginalized, disadvantaged communities across agriculture, forest and homestead landscapes, secure their land rights and live with their identity and dignity.
Pranab is the founder and coordinator of NRMC Center for Land Governance, as the Secretary of India Land and Development Conference and as a State Coordinator of the World Bank’s LGAF has very closely worked with Dr Haque for about the last 8 years.