Mar 23, 2015

Land Acquisition: The battle for land will intensify

Protesting farmers spending the night at Parliament Street in New Delhi. March 18. 

For the past three days, thousands of farmers from across the country, and owing allegiance to Bharti Kisan Union, are staying put at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. With distress written large on their faces, they are hoping that the government they voted for would at least have the courtesy to listen to them. Their anger is over an unjust law that they fear will forcibly evict them from their meager land holdings, and also they came hoping to seek some assurance from the powers that be for ending the continuing agrarian distress that they are living with.

A fortnight earlier, nearly 5,000 tribals under the banner of Ekta Parishad had also marched to New Delhi to join the two-day protest by Anna Hazare and others against the land acquisition bill. But with indifferent State machinery, and with an equally indifferent middle class, they found they had no sympathetic ears to allow them to even share their sufferings. Not even the national media, barring a few exceptions, took notice.
The disconnect between the middle class in the cities and the poor and marginalized in the rural areas, including 600 million farmers and the landless farm workers, is now becoming loud and distinct. For all practical purposes, the divide between India and Bharat that has been talked about for long is now clearly visible.

It is primarily for this reason that the debate over land acquisition fails to move beyond growth and development. In the race to build more infrastructure, the cries of poor and marginalized who are struggling to make the two ends meet gets drowned. The tribals who walked all the way to New Delhi or the farmers who are protesting at Jantar Mantar and also at a number of places across the country are therefore being considered as a hindrance in the development process. They are a roadblock, the sooner they are removed, and faster will be the pace of development.

For several years now, since the time economists/planners began telling us that land is an economic asset and it is unfortunately in hands of people who are inefficient, there has been literally a scramble by business and industry (driven by real estate) to procure as much as possible. The World Bank is backing this strategy, and if you have read the World Development Report 2008, you would know what I mean. It calls for land rentals, and setting up a network of training centres to train the displaced farmers to become industrial labour.
No wonder, the UPA government has made budgetary provisions for setting up 1,000 Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs). Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself had called for a population shift, moving out 70 per cent of the farming community into urban centres. This is what the World Bank had wanted India to do way back in 1996. It had wanted India to move 400 million people – twice the combined population of UK, France and Germany – to be moved out of the villages in the next 20 years, by 2015.

It’s all therefore part of a global design. All over the world pitched battles are being fought across nations by the poor and deprived, who fear further marginalisation when their land is literally grabbed by the government on behalf of the industry. It first begins by deliberately turning agriculture into a losing proposition as a result of which farmers, in most places, are keen to move out provided they get a better price for their land. Once this happens, it is much easier to drive out the farmers from their land holdings.

But it’s not as simple as it appears to be. Land being the only economic security for the poor, they put up a tough fight. In China, as Fareed Zakaria wrote in Newsweek sometimes back, 75,000 land conflicts, which means almost 250 protests a day, most of them bloody, happen every year. A recent report states that 28 lakh villagers have committed suicide in China in past 10 years. About 80 per cent of them did so because of forcible land takeover. Rural China has been on a boil all these years. In India, there were 260 land protests in 165 districts in 2013-14. When the new land bill comes into force, I foresee the battle over land intensifying in India. India will soon turn into a land of thousand mutinies.  #

Source: Land Acquisition: The fight for land will only intensify.
ABPnewstv Mar 20, 2015.

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