Land Acquisition Government‘S Apathy, Farmers’ Nightmare
The spectre of land acquisition haunted farmers of UP and the country alike this week. And the government took recourse to the decades-old path of treading to suppress the farmers’ voice with exercise of acute brute force, which resulted in death of four persons. In fact, fair compensation must go beyond monetary terms. Land acquisition by the government, whatever the purpose, entails forcible dispossession of farm lands and a loss of traditional livelihoods. For a farmer, finding alternative vocations or investing the money poses challenges in the form of having to take pragmatic decisions. He ends up spending the money, getting swindled or burning his fingers by investing in unviable businesses. The ‘take-the-money-and-get-lost’ approach is neither just nor humane. Dispossessed farmers should have the right to claim a share from the future profits of the project. It is worth mentioning that the land acquisition is the product of British imperial thought. In India, the Central as well state governments are acquiring large track of agriculture land without distinguishing between fertile land and fallow land for the benefit of companies of industrialists and real estate developers. This, coupled with mechanised cultivation, has rendered the farm labour and farmers, with small holdings, jobless. This segment of population of rural India, deprived of its way of living, is migrating to cities to make a living and is compelled to live in slums. Some of the unlucky ones are compelled to live on footpath braving the vagaries of weather. Wherever farmers opposed the acquisition of land they faced the ire of the government. Instances are not lacking where government resorted to force to quell the agitation and even killed the agitators. In this backdrop, it is noteworthy to have a peak into the past of the recent developments that are loaded with the seeds of this conflict. When the state of Uttar Pradesh announced plans to confiscate farmland for a toll road to the Taj Mahal, a grimly predictable plotline ensued—protesting farmers, angry over low compensation, blocked road work. Frustration boiled into fatal clashes with the police. Then opposition politicians arrived to rap the state government on its knucle and take credit of this movement. But not left alone, the state’s Chief Minister Mayawati announced to enhance payments to farmers. But, the farmers, whose land fall on the Yamuna Expressway, which is again under construction, are not satisfied. The project is now regarded as a tentative sign of progress in India’s wrenching fights over land, one of the most serious yet seemingly intractable challenges facing the country.
Although fuming confrontations between farmers and business interests took place in every corner of India, it is the British Raj’s land acquisition laws written in 1894 that paralyses the country’s coalition national government on reforming land acquisition laws. It is because of these laws that several scores of conflicts against land acquisition rage across the country, though politicians propose amendments to the Land Acquisition Act (LAA) and a new Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill, which await consideration by Parliament. With endemic opposition to land grabs for special economic zones (SEZs), mines, dams, power plants, highways, housing colonies and any number of ‘development’ schemes across the country, reconsideration of India’s land acquisition laws could hardly be more timely or important. Yet while the bills were first introduced in the wake of Nandigram and Singur and are ostensibly intended to improve resettlement and rehabilitation of the displaced, in their current form, they would only make it easier for the state to acquire land for private companies. Moreover, they fail to provide an adequate framework for minimising displacement and for ensuring that displaced people are left with viable livelihoods. The reopening of India’s land acquisition laws to amendment would be a significant development to resolve the myriad struggles against displacement across the country. These laws can either be amended to facilitate the forceful transfer of land from farmers to corporations or they can be amended to give people greater security in their land and resources and to ensure that they get a fair deal in the instances when their land is acquired for a truly public purpose. If the government is to solve a problem for people rather than capital, the Land Acquisition Act (Amendment) Bill and Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill must champion the cause of the farmers. For, land acquisition is always a sensitive matter. Various governments have dealt with this issue rigidly and follow an oligarchic stance. After more than 60 years of Independence, we still have the draconian British Land Acquisition Act of 1894. The absence of a political will to revolutionise such archaic laws shows the indifference on part of the government. In the name of enabling public utility, the government seems to be ensuring that the corporate world is the real beneficiary of such instances of land acquisition, i.e., a very small section of the society, thus the gulf getting further widened between the haves and have-nots. The issue shows that people’s participation in decision making is necessary. The irony is that instead of evolving a national or state-level policy, keeping in mind the concerns of land owners, governments usually resort to the use of unjust and excessive force, which is clearly self-defeating in the long run. These types of measures can only lead to development of reactionary tendencies. Is the government listening?