Devinder Sharma, writing from Delhi brings an update, after giving a brief historical overview: “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”.
Livemint India explains that the principle objective of the 2013 Bill is fair compensation, thorough resettlement and rehabilitation of those affected, adequate safeguards for their well-being and complete transparency in the process of land acquisition.
Opposition to the proposed new land acquisition ordinance became increasingly strident this year with farming activists, opposition Congress Party demonstrations and Aam Aadmi leader, Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal joining hands with social activist Anna Hazare to resist it. In July this site posted ‘India’s arable land – its greatest asset – is under threat’.
Is it a triumph of democracy or a simply a temporary reprieve – an outcome of political necessity?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is now saying that the government was always willing to listen to good suggestions from any institution, political party or farmers, and earlier had said that UPA’s land bill 2013 was passed in hurry. His rationale was that 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 but in what appears to be a complete turnaround, Narendra Modi in one of his monthly Mann ki Baat radio programmes explained how the original land bill 2013 will be helpful for farmers.
Sharma explains the importance of land to rural people
“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. 51% of rural households have no land. They are left with no option but to depend on manual labour for their existence. Moreover, land has inter-generational benefits that can never be quantified. Depriving people of their only economic security thereby adds to their economic vulnerability, with the negative impact lingering on to successive generations. Given that only 7% of Indians own 47% of the country’s land – which means 93% of the population is somehow struggling to retain its foothold over the remaining 53% of the land resources – clearly shows how skewed is the land equation in India”.
He then examines the assertion that projects worth many lakh-crore rupees are held up because of land:
“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% of projects are held up because of land. It states that projects are held up because of unfavorable market conditions and lack of investors’ interest.
“Many surveys have shows that 45% cent of the land acquired in just five states has been utilized so far. Even in the case of Special Economic Zones, only 62% of the land acquired has been put to use. A Comptroller and Auditor General (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 often made. 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. Building more houses is therefore not the solution. The answer lies in getting the real estate to reduce prices and make these houses affordable”.
This ‘u-turn’, performed despite the ‘bullying tactics of mainline economists and the industry lobbying groups’, is not an indication of retreat or defeat. Sharma concludes: “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% of the population. That’s the way to ensure Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas”*.
*Translated, this means: ‘Together with all, Development for all’: a Government of India policy initiative for inclusive development – a slogan coined by Prime Minister Modi.
See Devinder Sharma in Ground Reality at 9/03/2015 12:51:00 PM and in Hindi in: किसानों के हित में फैसला Dainik Jagran, Sept 3, 2015. And http://www.jagran.com/editorial/apnibaat-decision-in-favour-of-farmers-12828853.html