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Flawed logic

The present dispensation’s decision to amend the UPA-II’s land acquisition bill stems from the logic that it has brought various ‘development’ projects across the country to a standstill. However, in response to a Right to Information (RTI) query, it has been found that only 8 percent of these projects were stalled due to land acquisition problems. This data, more importantly, was furnished by the finance ministry under the RTI Act. The key reason behind these stalled projects is unfavourable market conditions followed by a lack of non-environmental clearances. In the amended bill, the Centre seeks to scrap the mandatory consent clause for land in five key sectors—industrial corridors, rural infrastructure, affordable housing, defence and public-private partnership projects. The other key amendments to the erstwhile land acquisition bill are exemptions for the above projects from social impact assessments. With only a 15 percent share in the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, India’s agriculture sector employs 60 percent of its population. Arguing for the Centre’s land acquisition bill, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had said that the government has to bring people out of agriculture and create jobs in the manufacturing sector.  This is probably the most succinct argument the Centre has presented for the bill. In order to achieve this transition to manufacturing, however, people from the rural agricultural sector need to acquire the requisite skills. If not, the only possible avenue for poor farm labourers is manual labour in the construction sector. With the Centre’s decision to establish skill development as the cornerstone of its socio-economic policy, the present bill may not seem too unfair to the average farmer. The truth, though, is a lot bleaker. Basic education and healthcare standards in the rural sector are at an all time low. In addition, the Centre has not taken any productive steps towards amending such malaises. Skill development for the average villager seems like fact for a rather distant future. In the meantime, however, there are two ways by which the government can alleviate the farmer’s condition without stalling manufacturing projects. First and foremost, there needs to be a nation-wide initiative to digitize and update all land records, so that the farmer can receive adequate and timely compensation. The second step, especially for those who choose to remain in the agriculture sector, is to allow farmers greater access to the market for its produce, instead of resorting to the way of minimum support prices (MSP), which does not take into account rising input prices.  Fix the basic nuts and bolts and the Centre will not have to peddle half-baked ideas to push its land acquisition bill. 


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