Millennium Post

Whose interest is public interest?

Ministry of Rural Development, in response to the 31st Parliamentary Standing Committee report on the Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill, 2011, while rejecting most of its key recommendations has come out with a new formulation. MoRD has proposed the name, ‘the Right to Fair Compensation, Resettlement, Rehabilitation and transparency in Land Acquisition Bill’ to emphasise and reflect better the government’s commitment towards securing a legal guarantee for the rights of all those individuals and families affected by the process of land acquisition; strengthening the rights based approach that has been a key element of the United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA) legislative agenda; and ensuring  greater transparency in the land acquisition process.

Jairam Ramesh has tried to reduce the issues surrounding the conflict around land acquisition in the country to two key issues; fair compensation and transparency in the land acquisition process. But are these the only issues? The India Infrastructure Report 2009 states that around 70 per cent of the infrastructure projects, to be developed by private corporations independently or in PPP model, are stuck due to land acquisition related problems. The problem is much deeper, with questions of equity, justice and right to life and livelihood at the heart of the struggle against the neo-liberal reforms. The cumulative resistance in Jagatsinghpur, Jaitapur, Fatehabad, Narmada Valley, Mundra, Koodankulam and many other places is to put spanner in the plan of India inc to have a free hand in the loot of precious natural resources and to challenge the ‘animal spirit’ in economy as UPA-2 is struggling to regain its feet.

The issue is not compensation as is visible from these two cases of the ongoing land acquisition conflict. On 17 July, a public hearing for the nuclear power plant, at Gorakhpur village in Fatehabad district, faced stiff resistance from farmers. The public hearing had to be called off within an hour and it remained inconclusive since the authorities failed to answer questions with regard to safety and hazards associated with nuclear power plants. Farmers have been protesting against the plant for the last two years  under the banner of Kisan Sangharsh Samiti. Responding to the opposition, Haryana Government has announced a compensation of Rs 46 lakh per acre to farmers whose land would be acquired for setting up a nuclear power plant at Gorakhpur village in Fatehabad district and farmers who do not indulge in litigation in case of acquisition of land will get Rs 4 lakh as non-litigation amount. Under the Land Acquisition Policy, an annuity of Rs 21,000 per acre would be given for 33 years with an annual increase of Rs 750, which would amount to Rs 10.79 lakh. This is not new, since the compensation package has been there and has only been revised upwards but will this entice them enough? The way events turned out on 17 July, it doesn’t seem like it. The message is clear, no to nuclear disaster, more so in the post-Fukushima times. It has been planned and dropped from above, without taking people in confidence for such a project as is the case in protests in Koodankulam, with complete disregard to the
gram sabhas
and panchayats in the region.  

So, clearly the compensation is not the issue as this, and other, case shows. The much touted transparency is not the concern either. It is clear that those who only have their land, water, and forests are not going to sacrifice it for some magical double digit growth, as aspired by the shining India.

The proposed Bill for the first time will legitimise land acquisition by the government for private companies and the projects implemented in PPP mode in the name of public purpose. The Bill dilutes  the provisions of public purpose and worse brings in vague provisions like projects for the production of public goods or the provision of public services by private companies directly or in the PPP mode. This is nothing but a clear move at facilitating profiteering. It is unfortunate that the MoRD has chosen to ignore the Parliamentary Standing Committee report and their plea for not facilitating the private business, which are in existence for profit motive only.

The need for industrialisation accepted, the predatory industrialisation will have to bring in the much needed overall growth of all the sections of the society. The Bill fails to address the demand of the social movements and communities struggling for a role in the development planning, push for much needed land reforms, and justice for millions already displaced, since provisions will only apply to the ongoing and forthcoming projects. The Bill needs to be withdrawn immediately and state acquisition should be limited to state’s welfare activities implemented with public money and not for dubious public purpose or interest. The introduction of the Bill will do more harm than good to the UPA-2, since the the issue will have wider political ramification as witnessed in the case of West Bengal.

Madhuresh Kumar is the national organiser, National Alliance of People’s Movements based in New Delhi
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