Land Acquisition Bill : Dare to Dream

In every society, we see battle between different ideologies. One side wants to dreams big and willing to take risk. Other side is risk averse, wants to maintain status quo and looks for short term gain. Same scenario is being played out in Indian political scenario, ever since NDA government has brought amendment to  Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, supreme leader of Congress party, had made a petition to president of India against the bill. In her effort, Mrs. Gandhi was accompanied by opposition members from Left parties, Samajwadi party, Bahujan Samaj party, Janata Dal United, Trinamool Congress, DMK, among others. At the same time, social activist Anna Hazare is promising a long march to Delhi followed by a fast. In his endeavor, Anna Hazare will be accompanied by farmers from all corners on the land. 

Land acquisition, rehabilitation and resettlement act of 2013 was passed unanimously in the last days of UPA government. It was the first amendement since 1894 land acquisition act that was passed during British rule. Parties that claim to be pro farmer now, slept all through 60 years of independence. The act of 2013 was brought deliberately close to election with an eye to garner farmers vote. No party could dare oppose the bill, lest they were viewed as anti-farmer before election. Farmers, however, did not consider the act beneficial. Otherwise, UPA government would not lose power. In chief ministers meeting, many chief ministers from both NDA and UPA had complained that development becomes difficult if had to comply with clauses of the act. So NDA government decided to amend the act.

Looking carefully at the pros and cons of the amended bill, the following points emerge:

1. Most farmers in India are small farmers. By some estimate, nearly 70% farmers in India till land 0.6 hectare or less. This farming is dependent on monsoon and extremely inefficient. As land ownership gets divided among generations, it may not be possible to support family of farmer by agriculture alone. So son of farmer has to get out of family profession and search for job.

2. Communist rule in Bengal had undertaken land reform. May be lot of first generation farmer getting benefit of land reform had improved. However, looking at macro-economic reality and indices of human development of West Bengal, it appears West Bengal to be one of the less prosperous and developed states. This despite thirty years of uninterrupted left rule in West Bengal.

3. It has been variously argued that government had reduced budgetary allocation to farming sector. Given that 70% Indians live on land, more allocation to farmers would have promoted growth. May be most certainly it would have. But worldwide it has been shown that maximum growth achievable through farming sector is between 3 – 6%, whereas industrialization increases growth by 10% or more.

4. Some people have argued that by reducing allocation to agriculture, and by snatching away land from farmers, government is actually forgetting about the plight of farm hands. As discussed before, farm hands support only 30% of Indian farm land. It has been published in Times of India that over the years, machines have replaced men in farming sector (TOI, Mar 16, 2015 : Machines drive 90% of power in farming). In 1971 – 72, agricultural workers constituted 15% as farm hands. This number has reduced to 5% in 2012 – 13. By contrast, machines which constituted 39% of farm aid in 1971 -72, now play 90% role. 

In the original bill of 2013, any land acquisition would need permission of 70% land owners. In practice, it was believed to be difficult to implement. It may take a minimum of three years to get necessary permissions, provided there is not litigation. Why India needs land, a scarce resource, that too urgently, many had asked.

1. India has a large number of young population. India needs to create jobs for her population rapidly and regularly. By some estimate, India needs to create around 10 million jobs per year, every year. For rapid job creation, one needs to create industry and develop infrastructure where people can be absorbed.

2. India needs to develop her rural infrastructure. Unless villages are made livable and attractive, villagers would migrate to cities in search of jobs. City dwellers will not come and live in villages, unless they find comparable amenities comparable to cities in villages. Villages need to be connected to cities, hospitals, schools etc. needs to be built in villages. This may need land.

3. India needs to decongest her cities. Big Indian cities, like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru and others, are bursting at their seams. Unless new cities are created, and existing small cities are developed, big cities in India may collapse. For building new cities, government may need land.

It will be unwise to undermine trust deficit that exists between government of the day, any government for that matter, and citizens. Government takes away land in the name of development, then sells it to builders and land developers at much higher profit. Farmers struggle to get their due price for the land in the name of national growth and development. Mr. Pavan Varma, a Rajya Sabha member from Janata Dal United, wrote in Times of India (TOI, 14th Mar, 2015, Land of the Lost) that people displaced for building  Bhakra Nangal Dam have not yet been repatriated completely till now. 
Mr Varma also wrote about helplessness of any person uprooted from his home and hearth of many generations experiences. There should be no doubt in any body’s mind that such an uprooting will be traumatic. It would be responsibility of government and society to deal with emotional trauma of displaced families with empathy and care. 

  • In the land acquisition act a compensation of four times the existing market value of the land is recommended. It would be the responsibility of the government of the day to ensure such disbursal is made in an honest and time efficient manner.

  • Since the price of land appreciates manifold once it is developed, it will be advisable if farmer is made a stakeholder in the future prosperity in and around the acquired land. In short, government and society must make an offer to the affected family that  may be difficult to refuse.

  • It is important to appreciate that emotions and attachment of land cannot be equated in terms of money. However, sons / daughters of families often move away to distant lands like US / Canada / Europe / Australia in search of better livelihood and opportunities. Family elders bid them goodbye with tearful eyes with the hope of better future and prosperity.

I think as a nation, we must ensure injustice is not done to those whose home and hearth is acquired in national interest. All parties must work to create mechanism such that compensation is given to farmers in time. It may be difficult to achieve, but that is where prime minister must stand upto his promise of Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas

Tags: Anna Hazare, Bahujan Samaj Party, Bengaluru, Chennai, Compensation, Delhi, Development, DMK, Farmer,  Growth, Janata Dal United, Kolkata, Land Acquistion Rehabilitation and Resettlement, Left Parties, NDA, Pavan Verma, Samajwadi Party, Sonia Gandhi, Trinamool Congress, UPA, West Bengal,

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