August 15, 2011
Shri Jairam Ramesh
Minister of Rural Development
This is with reference to the notice inviting comments on the draft of the Bill put up by the Ministry of Rural Development.
The primary intent of the draft Bill seems to be to give legal sanction to the land grab by corporates and the state under the justification of requirement of land for urbanisation, infrastructure development, industrialisation, and so on. At the same time, an illusion is sought to be fostered that the Bill is seriously concerned about the interests of those who lose their livelihood. There is not even an attempt to address the question of harmonisation of land use for different purposes and the natural balance that needs to be maintained between various types of land, including forest land, agricultural land, common property land, land for urban infrastructure and industry, etc.
By arguing for a “perfect land market”, the draft Bill will be actually deepening the asymmetry of power that it pretends to bridge. Instead of recommending urgent intervention by the government to make agriculture a viable occupation, the Bill actually condemns the peasants, who are on the verge of bankruptcy, to give up their profession and submit themselves to the mercy of profit-hungry corporate. It is ironic that the Ministry of Rural Development has taken on responsibility of destruction of rural livelihood to fill the pockets of corporate in various fields.
The draft Bill allows private corporates to acquire lands from peasants, tribals and fishing communities. If private corporate acquire land whose size is less than 100 acres, the bill does not cover such acquisitions at all. For acquisitions above 100 acres, all that private corporates have to ensure is the R&R component of the Bill. This means that the government has given a free hand to the corporate to acquire land by any means. It will step in to assist the corporate only if they face substantial resistance from the people. Such is the cynical nature of this bill.
The earlier Land Acquisition Act represented 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 “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.
The present draft continues in the same tradition. The definition of “public purpose” includes literally everything. The Bill divides state intervention for land acquisition into three categories — state taking over land for state purpose, state taking over land for eventual hand over to private parties, and state takeover of land for immediate handover to private parties.
In the first case, the entire powers of the 1893 Act are retained. The people have no say if their lands are acquired. This means that the people of Jaitapur in Maharastra, or Gorakhpur in Haryana, who are protesting against acquisition of their lands for a nuclear power project, have no rights. Their views do not count. Similarly in the case of land acquired for highways, airports, Defence related, etc. The question arises — are the rights of the people of Jaitapur and Gorakhpur, and the people in the border areas, not sacrosanct? What gives the state the right to seize their lands and deprive them of their livelihood?
In the Second and Third cases of state acquiring land for private parties, the Bill states that the consent of 80% of affected population is necessary. Anyone with an understanding of the processes in rural India, and the role of the state machinery and private corporates will be aware how 80% consent can be manufactured. Will the concerned gram panchayats have the final say? What about the agricultural workers and others dependent on the village economy, is their consent not required? In the case of so many projects in Himachal and Uttarakhand, it has been recorded that even the public hearings organised by the state machinery have been totally farcical. The Bill offers no insights about how it will address the inequity of power, through which consent is manufactured. What it does is to assure the corporates that it will forcibly acquire the lands of those who do not consent, once 80% consent is manufactured.
"Public purpose" must be very strictly defined. It must be a purpose that first of all serves the community that is affected. In the name of the general interest of society, the interests of the community affected cannot be overruled.
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 the well-being of 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 draft Bill goes against this ancient wisdom.
Another question has been posed by the process of development in our country. The industrial houses have got huge lands in the cities at virtually no cost, some in colonial times, and some afterwards. They have closed down their factories and are making profits by turning it into real estate. Such a thing has happended in a big way in Mumbai-Thane, in Kolkota and in Delhi. The government too is doing the same, as with NTC Mill lands, railway land etc. Why is the Bill silent on this question. Why are these lands not being reclaimed by the government without compensation and used for actual public purpose – the building of schools and hospitals and residential premises for workers?
It is not justifiable that the government proposes to table this Bill in Parliament and get it passed, without any serious consultation with the people at large. Lok Raj Sangathan does not accept the placing of this draft Bill on the website for comments for a short period, as a serious form of consultation. We are placing our views to you, 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”.
There have been massive countrywide protests against corporate land grab assisted by the state involving affected peasants, tribal peoples and fishing communities. Vast majority of peasants, tribal peoples and fisherfolk are not demanding "adequate compensation" for their lands, for losing their livelihood. Agricultural workers and other rural folk whose livelihood is closely linked with the village economy are not demanding "compensation" for losing their livelihood. What the voice of the people is asserting is that the state or the corporates have no right to deprive them of the source of their meagre livelihood. Furthermore, they are demanding that the state must fulfil its duty of ensuring security and prosperity for the people. The Draft Bill must be viewed in this context.
In the view of the Lok Raj Sangathan, it does not address the fundamental concerns of the peasants and tribal peoples. It constitutes a complete negation of the rights of the people. It is anti-people in its essence and intent. It only addresses the concerns of the biggest capitalists and the state as to how to "smoothly" deprive the peasants, tribal peoples and fisher folk of their main source of livelihood. Therefore the Draft Bill must be withdrawn.
Despite claims to the contrary in the Foreword to the draft Bill, this draft retains the essential features of its predecessor, the hated colonial Land Acquisition Act 1894, which has been used by the state, both during colonial times, and in independent India to deprive peasants and other people of their land. The LRS is of the opinion that what is needed is to scrap the existing Land Acquisition Act 1893. The next step is to bring in a law, after public discussion, on Land Use. This should cover both urban and rural lands. Who has the right to use lands, for what purpose, and under what conditions needs to be discussed and clearly spelt out in law. We must question ownership of land for private profit, which goes against the very grain of our ancient civilisation.
- Immediate repeal of the outdated Land Acquisition Act and the SEZ Act.
- Immediate withdrawal of the draft Bill which does not meet the expectations of people.
- 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.
- The drafting of a land use law with public consultation which will cover both urban and rural land.
- Ban on selling and buying land between private parties.
- 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.
- 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
President, Lok Raj Sangathan