Loot of Land

The NDA government in a single fast stroke has deprived the farmers in India of their legitimate property rights. It did not wait even for a parliamentary approval and brought in an ordinance to drastically change ‘The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013’.

 The government led by Narendra Modi in order to please the industrialist lobby hurriedly threw away without debate or discussion a progressive land acquisition legislation that had replaced the colonial Land Acquisition Act of 1894. That draconian land law had troubled the people, particularly the farmers, leading to endless agitation, litigation and even police firings. There are thousands of cases pending in courts across the country since Independence.  A new deal was promised some 30 years ago and the law was also said to be in the making for that long. The new Act that came into existence only in January last year after much agitation and coaxing   was   supported by all parties. The Bharatiya Janata Party (National Democratic Alliance) was a party to the passing of this Act.  How fast has the BJP changed its position after coming to power shows its true colours?

Indian public except a small section of big industrialists had welcomed this legislation in 2014. Now ignoring the interests of millions of famers, the NDA has succumbed to the interests of the land grabbers and real estate sharks. It is clear that the present union government has the interests of the industrialists who wish to have easy and low-priced land not only to setup industrial units, but to use this inexpensively acquired land to build their assets. It is worthwhile to recall the recent CAG report, ‘Performance of Special Economic Zones (SEZs)’ tabled in Parliament on November 28, 2014. It has been established that some clever entrepreneurs with the help of pliable powerful people mortgaged government land Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and raised over Rs 6,300 crore from the banks. Three of them managed to get over Rs 2,200 crore by diverting land to other use. Newspapers across the country have reported that the government has lost whopping revenue of Rs 83,000 crore SEZs in 6 years.

 It is intriguing to note that property rights are considered sacrosanct in the economic model that the country has adopted and no industrialist has ever been deprived of this right   but in case of taking agricultural land, even productive multi crop land, farmer’s rights are routinely usurped by a blatant misuse of sovereign powers.  Countless number of cases for compensation is sure a proof that the farmers have been dealt with in a very cavalier manner.   The property of an industrialist is considered sacrosanct, and is   anathema but not that of a farmer.

 Why the process of diversion of land from agricultural to industrial use is so   fast and easy? Why vital questions of food security are being completely ignored.  The law brought into force in January 2014 ruled out the acquisition of multi-cropped agricultural land.  This provision has disappeared in the present Ordinance.

 The NDA ministers have been stressing that this   ordinance retains the compensation provisions of the earlier Act, but is the land only a question of money? The acquisition of land means not only loss of land and homes, but also loss of occupation, community and cultural solidarity and in a way loss of a way of life style.  There are   and it is clear from the Social Impact Assessment provisions of the earlier Act wider social and cultural implications when the land of the farmers is acquired. This provision has been practically dropped in the Ordinance, if we consider the large number of cases to which it will not apply.

 It was widely held view in our country that acquisition by the state for private entities should be limited and based on judicious requirement. The Act partially met this by limiting the acquisition by the state to 20 per cent in the case of a private company and 30 per cent in that of a public-private partnership (PPP) project, if the owners’ consent for the transfer of 80 per cent in the case of the former and 70 per cent in that of the latter had been gained.  This Act for the first time considered that the view of the community as a whole on the transfer of land was to be given adequate weight. This protection practically disappears in the ordinance because it will not apply in most cases. Apart from the effective dropping of community consent, this change also means the return of the eminent domain of the state in full strength. This clearly is undemocratic and authoritarian. The ordinance says that in case of PP model, the government shall retain the ownership right. How does this benefit the landowners and then the government can very conveniently lease out this land of 99 years as has been the practice.

If we consider the huge exemption list (Section 10A introduced by the ordinance), and the attendant disappearance of the Social Impact clause that is 80 per cent/70 per cent consent stipulation in most cases, it becomes a useless piece of legislation.  The ordinance smugly brings acquisitions under a number of other acts within the purview of the amended law.

We demand that the government should acquire land for industry and other public purposes under such legal provisions that the fundamental rights of landowners are protected and adequate compensation in full measure are ensured.  The 2103 Act should remain on the statute.  Why should the state use its sovereign powers only to make things easy for industry? An impression is fast gaining ground that the present government is pro-industry and anti-farmer.

Withdraw Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Ordinance 

 The above statement has been signed and released to the press by:-

Gurbachan Jagat , Former Governor Manipur

Gobind Thukral, senior journalist

Professor Sucha Singh Gill, Director General, CRRID, Chandigarh.

B.S.Brar & Ronki Ram,  Panjab University academicians, professors

Rajinder Singh Cheema, Former Advocate General, Punjab

Gurdarshan Singh Grewal, Former Advocate General, Punjab

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