Sep 3, 2015

Decision on land acquisition is in favour of farmers

Protest against and acquisition around Jaipur -- web photo

At a time when hundreds of people displaced as early as in 1948 for the construction of the Bhakra dam have still not been rehabilitated, and thousands of those evicted for the construction of a series of dams on Narmada river are still fighting for their legitimate dues, the latest report of the Socio-Economic Survey for Rural India has brought out the economic vulnerability from growing landlessness.

Accordingly, 51 per cent of the rural households have no land. They are left with no option but to depend on manual labour for their existence. Therefore, the withdrawal of the land ordinance and restoring the UPA’s land bill 2013, which provides for social impact assessment and the consent clause, may be seen as a major climb-down for what was being projected as a big ticket policy reform but is definitely a breather for the farming community. In addition, the amendment that includes 13 areas which were not covered under the 2013 bill – like land for erecting electricity poles, coal blocks, railway lines etc.    

Call it a triumph of democracy or a climb-down from the land ordinance, many believe it is simply a temporary reprieve. Although Prime Minister Narendra Modi has now mellowed down his brazen tune, saying that the government was always willing to listen to good suggestions from any institution, political party or farmers, the fact is that despite the groundswell of opposition the government had brought in three ordinances in quick succession. At no stage was the government willing to even consider any alterations to the sweeping changes it had proposed in the very first ordinance introduced in December last.

Let us not forget that Prime Minister had himself said earlier that UPA’s land bill 2013 was passed in hurry. He had explained in a ‘mann ki baat’ programme on how the new bill that his government was trying to bring in would remove the hurdles in the path to development and in the process brings prosperity to farmers. His colleagues, including the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, the Surface Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari, Minister of Urban Development Venkaiah Naidu and even the Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar had parroted the same argument time and again. The stakes were so high that Arun Jaitley had even hinted at the possibility of a joint sitting of parliament to get the bill through. Now, in what appears to be a complete turnaround, Narendra Modi in a mann ki baat programme explained how the original land bill 2013 is going to be helpful for farmers.

The u-turn is therefore an outcome of political necessity rather than any change of heart. Knowing that the numbers in Rajya Sabha were not in its favour, and aware that the political overtures with some of the state leaders was not indicative of a support for the land ordinance, there was hardly any other option left but to withdraw the contentious amendments. The democratic victory that many are claiming is just because the NDA was not in majority in Rajya Sabha. If the numbers in Rajya Sabha were in its favour, I am sure the amendments – despite the opposition by Bhartiya Kisan Sangh, Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh and the Swadeshi Jagran Manch – would have been bulldozed to turn the ordinance into a law by now.

I think it will eventually turn out to be a blessing in disguise. The anti-kisan bill as the ordinances were known as, would have certainly impacted the party fortunes in the upcoming Bihar elections, and could cost the party dear in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh and Punjab elections. The strong wave of anger that prevails in the rural areas has perhaps not been properly gauged earlier by party leadership. Given the NDA government’s refusal to provide 50 per cent higher Minimum Support Price (MSP) as promised by Narendra Modi at the time of elections, and coupled with the lingering fear of a takeover of their land anytime and anywhere, the rural sentiments in favour of the ruling party had certainly taken a severe hit.

What has been deliberately missed out in the heated debates that followed the promulgation of ordinances on land acquisition is that a piece of land, howsoever small it may be, is the only economic security for a majority of the people. Moreover, land has inter-generational benefits that can never be quantified. Depriving people of their only economic security thereby adds on to their economic vulnerability, with the negative impact lingering on to successive generations. Given that only 7 per cent Indians own 47 per cent of the country’s land, which means 93 per cent of the population is somehow struggling to retain its foothold over the remaining 53 per cent of the land resources clearly shows how skewed is the land equation in India.

To say that availability of land is coming in the way of development is nothing but propaganda to grab as much land as possible. I have heard that projects worth Rs 4 lakh- crore are held up because of land. This is not correct. According to Economic Survey 2015, only 8 per cent of projects are held up because of land. It states that projects are held up because of unfavorable market conditions and lack on investors’ interest. Many surveys have shows that 45 per cent of the land acquired in just five states has been utilized so far. Even in the case of Special Economic Zones, only 62 per cent of the land acquired has been put to use. A CAG report says: “Acquisition of land from the public by the government is proving to be a major transfer of wealth from the rural populace to the corporate world.”

Affordable housing is another justification that goes well with the urban middle class. But the fact remains that the country at present needs 1.8- crore houses. It already has 1.2-crore houses/flats that are lying vacant. These houses are lying vacant because the prices are exorbitantly high beyond the reach of those who can afford it. The prices are not coming down because the real estate is known to be parking for black money. Building more houses is therefore not the solution. The answer lies in getting the real estate to reduce prices and make these houses affordable.

The challenge therefore is not to be unduly harried by the bullying tactics of mainline economists and the industry lobbying groups. The u-turn is not an indication of retreat or defeat. It’s a sign of political maturity, and should be used by Narendra Modi to shift the focus of development to agriculture and rural development, which would directly benefit 70 per cent of the population. That’s the way to ensure Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas. #

किसानों के हित में फैसला Dainik Jagran, Sept 3, 2015.

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