Recent land-related legislation and policy changes in Nepal, the Land Use Act (2076) and the Land Use Regulations (2079), in particular, have introduced more systematic governance of land through classifying land types, limiting the transfer of agricultural land for other purposes, and lowering the limit for allowable land divisions. These legal and policy restructurings respond to the widespread concern over the conversion, fragmentation, and abandoning of arable land (Rimal et al. 2018; Mandal 2020; Prasain 2019), which evokes fears about compromised domestic agriculture productivity and food self-reliance in Nepal. Such concerns are especially manifested when foreign employment has long become an overwhelmingly popular aspiration in Nepal (Bruslé’s 2018; Shrestha 2018). This paper traces how the promised land governance adjustment gets materialised at the local level. Specifically, I examine how local government staff, landowners, land activists and organisations, and others involved in the land market, interpret and engage with the recent land laws and policies.

This paper is first based on participant observation in local government offices, especially ward offices, in one selected municipality in Nawalpur District of Gandaki Province. The research within the governmental offices allows me to closely observe how local bureaucrats bring the new land management system into practice. At the same time, I can observe how residents visiting the offices for various logistic issues make sense of these policies. In addition, I conducted interviews with Malpot officers and the semi-legal agencies functioning around the Malpot, to understand how the new land legislation might (or fail to) penetrate the established practices of land transactions. Meanwhile, I also conducted interviews with activists and organisations who initially promoted the Land Use Act (2076) (as well as the related Land Use Regulations (2079)), to understand how they envision the potential of the laws.

By tracing how the newly enacted Land Use Act (2076) and Land Use Regulations (2079) get interpreted and experienced by activists, landowners, and bureaucrats, among others, this paper first presents the tension between the intentions and practices of legal and policy restructuring. In particular, I present that while the local government does recognize the implementation of the new land legislation, especially the land type classification, as a “sensitive” issue which might profoundly influence how landowners may develop or sell their land, it is not uncommon that some landowners are not well aware of these policies. However, instead of contributing their gap in policy and legal knowledge as ignorance or bureaucratic failure, I suggest that it reveals the difficulty of intervening in established practices of land valuation and classification (for example, based on the access of the land to different types of roads). Therefore, in the end, this paper questions whether instead of restructuring the existing land market practices through legal and bureaucratic measures, the Land Use Act (2076) and Land Use Regulations (2079) would result in new and more complicated bureaucratic hustles.