Ukhada Rights Campaign

Ukhada was a land use system operated in only three districts in the Tarai: Rupandehi, Kapilavastu and Nawalparasi. Under this system, “the tillers have no formal agreement with the owners and are likely to be expelled at any point of time if discovered. Hence, the name Ukhada, meaning ‘displaced’. Farmers generally paid revenue to an absent landlord for the land cultivated, either in cash or kind. In addition, they worked for the landowner whenever labour was required.

According to the Ukhada Related Act of 1964, which abolished this form of tenancy, Ukhada land was to be registered in the name of the tillers, provided they paid a lump sum equivalent to ten times the annual revenue they were paying to the original landowner and held Nepali citizenship. Farmers who met these requirements, and where there were no objections from the landlords, could get the registered ownership of their land. In cases where the landlords objected the registration of ownership of land in the names of the tillers, these cases were transferred to the Ukhada Special Court which was formed in 1964 and remained in place until 1985. The Special Court issued 3,832 verdicts in Ukhada land litigations in Nawalparasi district alone.However, many of the tillers who won their cases nevertheless failed to register the land in their names because they lacked proof of citizenship.

Although the system allowing absent landlords to have their land cultivated by tillers under informal agreements, known as Ukhada, has been abolished for almost 50 years, many families who have cultivated the land under Ukhada remain without formal records granting them secure ownership. In spite of the legal provisions and systems, many have remained on the land in an uneasy status quo, sometimes voluntarily paying taxes in lieu of the original landowner for land that they do not own.

The Ukhada National Act of 1964 has made the provision of providing land certificates to the farmers, however, due to the lack of knowledge and different manipulations by the landlords, this provision has not been put to practice.

The farmers declared an Ukhada movement in order to pressurise the government to provide land certificates to the tillers cultivating in Ukhada land. The demands put forth by the tillers were: old certificates that have been lost due to fire, rain, or torn by the landlord and other reasons should be replaced with new ones as per the recommendation of the Village Development Committee, dual ownership of land certificates in the name of both the husband and wife should be issued among others.

Ukhada victims are involved in the land rights movement through the National Land Rights Forum which is advocating at the policy level on their behalf.