March 8, 2008
New Delhi

To,

Shri Kalyan Singh,
Hon’ble Chairperson,
Standing Committee on Rural Development
Lok Sabha                                                                                          

 

Response to the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2007 and the Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill, 2007

Sir,

This is with reference to the notice inviting comments on the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2007, and the Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill, 2007 put up by the Ministry of Rural Development. Lok Raj Sangathan, is of the opinion that these Bills, as they are drafted, constitute a complete negation of the rights of the people. They are anti people in their essence and intent. They must be immediately withdrawn.

The Land Acquisition Act is a hated colonial Act, which has been used by the state, both during colonial times, and in independent India to deprive peasants of their land.  Estimates indicate that there are over 6 crore internally displaced people, who have been victims of this act, in just the years since independence. The demand of the Indian people is the scrapping of this colonial Land Acquisition act of 1893 — and not the retention and strengthening of its hated features in the guise of an amendment.

The Land Acquisition Act represents an instance of the power of Eminent Domain claimed by the British colonialists and now by the Indian state – the power to take any private property for public use. This power is justified by maxims such as “regard for public welfare is the highest law” and “public necessity is greater than private necessity”. Armed with such a law the state is able to acquire land for any purpose quickly and with minimum compensation. Such a law makes the acquisition seem “lawful” and not arbitrary in the eyes of society. Under it the authority of the state to acquire land is absolute.

While making acquisitions under the guise of “public purpose”, the real meaning of this “public purpose” has neither been clearly defined nor limited by law. The state can arbitrarily declare any acquisition as for “public purpose”, while handing over the acquired land to private parties for purely profiteering and speculation. Not only are private lands acquired under this pretext, public lands which are common property such as common grazing lands, parks or forests have also been handed over to private benefit in the name of ‘public interest’.

In the case of BALCO, the Indian state acquired land of the tribal people in the guise of public interest, but has handed it over the private multinational Sterlite. The government acquired land of the farmers for railways, airports, armed forces, and various PSU’s in name of public interest, with a pittance of compensation. Now, they are selling these lands to private parties who are making a windfall profit. All over India, with Nandigram and Singur being among the bloodiest examples, the government has been forcibly acquiring land to hand over to private monopolies. Opposition to this is widespread throughout the country. This is the reason the government is making a show of amending the Land Acquisition Act. However, the proposed amendment allows the state to retain powers of taking over the land of farmers. This is totally unacceptable. Hence both the original Act as well as the amended Bill must be scrapped.

From ancient times, Indian people have had control over forest land, village commons and wastelands. Strict rules governed the use of land. Land used for agricultural purposes could not be used for other purposes without the consent of the entire community and no use of force was allowed. Laws were made and administered to ensure well-being for the people. While the king could acquire property belonging to private persons, there were strict duties that the king owed to the people concerning their welfare which operated as a check on the arbitrary use of this power. The British colonialists overturned this relationship between the people and their environment and framed laws with the express purpose of enabling the plunder of the natural resources of India for private benefit. The British theory of an untrammelled sovereign power ignored the historical duties imposed on kingship by Indian political thought, and this formed the basis of colonial plunder.

Both the Land Acquisition Bill and the Relief and Rehabilitation Bill are unjust and anti-people. It is known that the opposition to the SEZ’s in particular and the colonial land acquisition act in general is widespread, covering all regions of India from Manipur to Maharashtra and Punjab to Tamilnadu, and covering every state of India. This opposition includes all sections of people.

It is not justifiable that the government proposes to table bills in Parliament and get them passed, without any serious consultation with the people at large. Lok Raj Sangathan does not accept the placing of these bills on the website for comments for a short period, as a serious form of consultation. We are placing our views to you sir, under protest, that what is really demanded is a wide ranging discussion amongst all sections of the people of India on the whole question of forcible land acquisition in the name of “public interest”.

We demand:

  1. Immediate repeal of the outdated Land Acquisition Act and the SEZ Act.
  2. Immediate withdrawal of the two Bills on Land Acquisition and on Relief and Rehabilitation.
  3. That the government bring out a White Paper on all the land acquired under the Land Acquisition Act from 1947 till now, the number of persons who were displaced, current utilisation of the acquired land and the status of the rehabilitation of the displaced persons.
  4. Clear guidelines regarding the basis on which agricultural land can be transferred from farmers to private parties carrying out non agricultural activities. There should be wide ranging discussion organised amongst the people on this issue of vital importance, to come up with guidelines that must be strictly implemented so that finance capital does not wipe out our peasantry and agriculture.
  5. Strict enumeration of grounds on the basis of which agricultural land can be taken over by government in the name of Public interest. Given the travesty of justice that has been carried out thus far, over the years, by the state in India in the name of acquiring land for “public interest”, there should be a countrywide discussion organised, involving all people and political forces, to define clearly what constitutes “public interest” before this power can be granted to the state.
  6. Public consultation and prior consent before public lands are arbitrarily handed over to private ownership. The state does not have the unilateral right to hand over public lands to private owners
  7. Persons ‘affected’ by such acquisitions to include not only owners of such property but also those who were employed on such land or whose livelihood was dependent on such land prior to such acquisition.
  8. Any future law that is worked out following these consultations must be consistent with the following:
  • Right of human beings to livelihood and shelter are inviolable.
  • Right of people to common property resources should be recognised.
  • There should be no use of force to acquire land under any circumstances.
  • Prior informed consent should be a right of all.
  • No project can be commissioned until all the affected people are suitably and verifiably rehabilitated first.
  • Rehabilitation should be comprehensive and include housing, livelihood, access to common resources, etc. Alternate land of equivalent quality in the close vicinity must be granted to all persons who are affected by such acquisition.
  • Involvement of local committees should be ensured in the implementation and monitoring of projects, including the rehabilitation component.
  • People have to be compensated not only for the land acquired, but also for the loss of access to other common resources. Not only the owners of land, but those whose livelihood is linked with farmers, such as the agricultural workers, the artisans etc must be verifiably resettled and compensated.
  • The rights of both rural and urban communities should be respected

 

Sincerely

S. Raghavan
President Lok Raj Sangathan

Justice Hosbet Suresh
Honorary Chairperson, LRS

Shri TS Sankaran
Honorary Chair Person, LRS

Justice AS Bains
Vice President LRS

Justice SM Daud
Vice President LRS

Prakash Rao
All India Convenor

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