This profile was prepared when Hanif Mahmoud was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1998.
The New Idea
The high population density of Bangladesh's agriculture based economy has resulted in land prices being abnormally high, preventing poor peoples access to property. Majority farmers are actually landless and have only their labor as a means of employment. As agriculture is seasonal, they have no regular earnings and are virtually deprived of all social benefits. They are wholly dependent on cultivating other people's lands and are forced to accept low wages. Recognizing the plight of the landless peasants, the constitution of the country guarantees the poorest sections of the population access to 'khas' or unutilized government land. In practice though, influential persons and prosperous farmers in connivance with government officials cultivate most khas lands. Another important matter to consider is that even in situations where people own and have access to property, conflicting claims of land ownership generate unduly large number of litigation in different courts. There are many instances of people being rendered landless due to the high costs and lengthy court procedures.Developing a methodology for identifying and verifying records is essential for land reform. Hanif has been working on this very issue in one 'mauza' (lowest land administrative unit comprising an area ranging between 500-1000 acres) of Badarganj, Rangpur district. He has searched, correlated and linked the different land surveys done in that region from 1890 onwards. As there is more than one copy of the survey records stored in different locations, the probability of manipulation of all the related documents is low. Thus, this method, time consuming as it may be, provides an exact detail of the land area and can be replicated all over the country. Through this process Hanif has also identified the loopholes officials are taking advantage of for manipulating records. Hanif is concurrently conducting training programs and public awareness campaigns on land issues. The training programs are targeted for non-government organizations in order for them to identify khas land in their respective working areas. These organizations can then assist their poor beneficiaries to mobilize and gain rights to those lands. The awareness campaigns targeted for the general public, particularly the poor, focuses on the procedures involved in identifying and verifying land deeds. By offering the government a workable model and applying pressure through educating and mobilizing the people, Hanif feels that land reform can be effectively implemented.