On 19th April 2015 the Thane committee of Lok Raj Sangathan organized a meeting of activists to discuss the important issue of Land Acquisition. Activists of many organizations from Mumbai, Thane and Raigad districts participated vigorously.
The meeting started with a presentation on the subject by Lok Raj Sangathan. It was pointed out that prior to British rule there was no private ownership of land in our country. Farmers were allotted land which they were responsible for tilling. A vast expanse of land was owned by entire villages which were used for common purposes like grazing of cattle. The British who came under the guise of trading needed land for their activities and hence they introduced the zamindari system of land ownership. This created a new class of people in India who benefited from British rule. The British used the land for large scale indigo farming, and for putting up manufacturing facilities for opium, etc. They exported the products all over the world, amassing huge profits. The War of Independence in 1857 revealed to the British rulers that they need to put up railways across our country not only for moving raw materials and finished goods but also for fast troop movement. Open revolts against their rule continued all over India. They also needed to increase mining activities to loot and plunder rich coal, iron and other natural resources from our country. All this meant that they needed complete control and power to acquire land anywhere in India. That is why they passed Land Acquisition Act in 1894.
Under this Act the British government took forcible possession of land. To fool the people they claimed that they were doing this for projects which are in public interest. However in reality, all such projects mainly benefited the British government, its ruling class, the British trading and manufacturing companies as well as a handful of rich Indian traders and industrialists. The ones who suffered were the crores of common people from urban, and rural India. That is why there were many revolts across India against these actions.
It is obvious that if the people had been asked whether they wanted this Act to continue after independence, their answer would have been a resounding “NO!” However, just like many other anti-people Acts, this one too remained on the statute books. Over the decades it was used by various governments at the Central and State levels. Just like the cunning British, land continued to be acquired in the name of public interest, growth and development. It was forcibly taken for building dams, highways, airports, laying railway lines, laying gas lines and water lines, for constructing power plants, for Industrial development corporations, for SEZs, for factories, and so on. Over the decades more than 6 crore people, including about 4 crore adivasis have been displaced without rehabilitation or compensation for such projects. Their lives have been devastated, while it is mainly big Indian capitalists and big traders who have been enriched. In many large cities and towns land acquired has been handed over to big capitalists at throwaway prices. For example, in Mumbai alone big capitalist firms and trusts like Godrej and Boyce, Ghashiram Ramdayal, Bhiwandiwala Hormusji, Essel World, Beheramjee Jeejeebhoy, Larsen and Toubro, Mahindra and Mahindra, Gammon India, and various five star hotels together own thousands of acres of land. Thousands of hectares of rich fertile land near big cities like Mumbai has been given away at throwaway prices to big capitalist companies like Reliance Industries, Tata companies, Adani group, Mahindra and Mahindra, HCC, Birla group companies for building SEZs and so on.
In the last 68 years all such forcible land acquisition has been opposed by the affected people across India because it deprived them of their main livelihood; promises of justified compensation were rarely fulfilled and grossly inadequate compensation was given. In most cases, despite rosy promises, people are worse off than before they lost their land.
After 1990, under the new economic policy of Globalization by Liberalization and Privatization, demand for land from Indian and foreign monopoly companies increased tremendously. Land was sought for massive mining activities, industrial corridors, SEZs, massive infrastructural projects, agri-business, and for purely speculative real estate development. It is estimated that in the next 15-20 years more than 64 lakh hectares of land is required for agri-business, 70 lakh hectares for infrastructure projects, and 23 lakh hectares for mining and other extraction projects. But people’s opposition to such acquisition is also growing and getting more and more organized. Hence the government needed an Act which would legitimise land acquisition and fool the people that their interests would be protected.
This is why under the UPA government of Manmohan Singh, the parliament passed “The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill 2013”. High publicity was given to some provisions in the bill which promise higher compensation to land owners and those dependent on land. However a closer look reveals that this Act has the same orientation as the old Act of 1894: of making land easily available to capitalist monopolies and trampling underfoot the right to livelihood of thousands whose land was to be acquired.
Many of the projects for which the land is acquired are public sector infrastructure projects. Under this new Act no prior consent of people is required for such projects. This Act also specifically excluded 16 various Acts under which land can be acquired like the Atomic Energy Act 1962, National Highways Act 1956, SEZ Act 2005 etc. This means that people protesting against the arbitrary acquisition of their land for nuclear power plants, highways and SEZs will not get any protection under this law. In our country traditionally the largest mass of land is owned by the entire communities and society. This includes wasteland, grazing land, forests, water bodies and village common lands. This Act has nothing to protect such common lands. The Act talks of involving gram sabhas in the Social Impact Assessment surveys that are required before the notification to acquire land can be given. However, as before, while various parties may or may not be ‘consulted’, the final decision to give the clearance is given by the officials, and not the people. The Act says displaced people should not only be rehabilitated, but should be direct beneficiaries of the projects concerned, and that their standard of living should be the same or higher than before. However, there are no mechanisms to ensure their realisation and to hold the authorities to account if they are not. So just like hundreds of other laws, people will not be able to get justice in the absence of enabling mechanisms. Just like the Act of 1894 this Act also completely ignores the necessity for harmonious development of agriculture on one hand and industry and services on the other hand.
The current BJP led government announced its clear intention of further attacking people when it clarified that without land acquisition it is difficult to execute their ambitious pet projects, including the “Make in India” programme, which seeks to revive and boost domestic manufacturing. It decided to further dilute the Act of 2013 to make it easier to acquire land. Since it could not get it passed in both houses of parliament quickly it passed an ordinance which amended and diluted the Act of 2013. The presentation thus clarified that Indian ruling classes continued with the Act of 1894 even after independence till 2013, modified it in 2013 and once again in 2015. The intention is the same as that of the British rulers – to serve the interests of the ruling class under the guise of Public interest at the cost of livelihood of masses of Indian people.
This presentation was appreciated by several speakers and other participants.
Many speakers then presented their views and enriched the discussion. Advocate Sunil Dighe pointed out that Adivasis revolted against the British rule many times and hence British rulers brought out the Forest Act in 1861. This Act established the ownership of the British government over all the forests of India and was precursor to the Land Acquisition Act of 1894. He also explained that Maharashtra government has used another dirty trick to negate the right of adivasis over forests. It has ordered a census of tribals during which caste or other certificates are demanded from tribals. A very large number of tribals are unable to produce such certificates, thus depriving them of being classified as tribals. Most of the 174 SEZs of Maharashtra are close to the Eastern side of the Sahyadri mountain range. This is the side from which a large number of rivers flow. Thus the SEZ owners will indirectly have ownership over these rivers. Ballarsha paper mills manufactures and sells lakhs of tonnes of paper every year. Government has given away thousands of hectares of forest land to the mill owners at a meagre annual rent of Rs.100/- , and thus the mills have been allowed to cut trees from these forests for free. This provides them with the main raw material for manufacturing paper pulp. He pointed out that giving “compensation” is a Western concept based on the concept of exchange price. This is alien to our culture. “How can right to life be compensated by any amount?” is what he asked.
A leading activist and leader from Raigad district, Shrimati Vaishali Patil raised the important question “What is the meaning of Public Interest and who should decide what is in Public interest and what is not?” Since British rule the rulers decided that only the Government has this right, and all the ruling classes of India have continued with the same concept since 1947. It is thus the Government of the day which decides which projects are in public interest, in India’s interests, which company is working in country’s interest, etc. And then these governments not only give such companies cheap or free land but also give them huge financial subsidies. For example, tax exemptions given to SEZs are more than the money budgeted by the government of India for the Employment Guarantee Scheme! She appreciated efforts of Lok Raj Sangathan for awakening the urban population on such issues which are wrongly considered as issues of only the project affected and farmers. She pointed out how the adverse impact of such laws on the livelihood of farmers and adivasis will also impact the urban population adversely.
A young political activist pointed out that a very large proportion of farmers want to leave farming and migrate to cities because of the anti-farmer policies of various governments. If this happens it will adversely impact food security of our country. Instead of such anti-people laws what is required is to help farmers for collectivization and to develop infrastructure necessary for agriculture.
Dr. Sawant, an environmental activist, passionately pointed out that all such policies are ignoring the most important aspect of development – the harmonious development of industry and agriculture in complete harmony with environment and nature. Such policies are thus leading to major environmental imbalance causing many natural calamities and global warming.
A young member of Lok Raj Sangathan made a power point presentation about those who lost their land to the Tarapur nuclear power plant. The young members had made a field visit to get first-hand information from the affected people. The presentation highlighted the fact that government has not kept any promise which it gave to the people of Tarapur more than 40 years ago. These people gave away their fertile land for the Tarapur nuclear power plant in what they were made to believe was for the national interest. Today they have not only lost their livelihood, but suffer daily due to the radioactive pollution caused by the plant. He called upon the youth present in the meeting to never believe what they are told by the government and media but to investigate themselves, use their brains before reaching any conclusions.
The speaker from CGPI congratulated all those who participated in the discussion. She said that such respectful dialogue and discussion is very necessary to build political unity of all who are fighting against various aspects of the current system. Be it the struggle in defence of livelihood, in defence of democratic rights, for justice, for environment, be it the struggles of workers or peasants or adivasis, all are against various aspects of the capitalist system. It is essential to understand that the root cause of all the ills of society is the capitalist system. The ruling class of India continues to rule us by fooling and dividing us just like the British ruling class did. For example on the issue of Land acquisition it is trying to portray that those who oppose such forcible land acquisition are against development and against public interests, that such opponents are just being selfish, whereas all those who want development must support such laws. It is necessary to continue exposing such lies. Why we can’t think that all of us from different organizations are parts of the same body whose objective is to make our country an excellent place to live in harmony with nature for the benefit of all the working people, she said. We need to establish the rule of the workers and toilers.
The speaker from the Kamgar Ekta Committee said that the capitalist class looks at labour and land with the same perspective, of exploiting them to the maximum. Besides the land acquisition related laws, the capitalist class is also gunning for anti-people labour laws. Trading capitalist monopolies exploit both farmers and workers. It is in the interests of both the working class and peasantry to end the rule of capitalist class and the exploitation.
After several other interventions, the Lok Raj Sangathan speaker thanked all those who participated in the discussions and said that all have learnt from each other. He declared that Lok Raj Sangathan will hold more such discussions on a regular basis in the future. The meeting ended with a song rendered by two young activists.