Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Problems galore in Land Acquisition Bill

Acquisition of fertile land raises more questions than it answers

Sankar Ray / Kolkata

In the late 1940s, Bankim Mukherjee, a legendary peasant and trade union leader, was traveling in a boat in eastern Bengal (now Bangladesh). The boatman casually lamented that poverty forced him to sell his operational holding of a little more than an acre. Mukherjee, one of the first Leftist legislators of pre-independence era and an ace orator-parliamentarian asked why he wasn’t putting efforts to keep a wolf from the door. The boatman replied, “If I earn more and have some savings, I shall again buy land and begin cultivation.” Mukherjee told this in an interview to a well-known poet-cum-reporter Golam Quddus.

The umbilical relationship between a peasant and the land is an axiomatic reality. During the agitation of farmers in Uttar Pradesh in August 2010 over the 165 km land acquisition for the Yamuna Expressway, a direct road link between Noida and the Taj Mahal city Agra, I remembered the yearning of a boatman on the mighty river Padma, forced to sell his land. Chief minister Mayavati, wriggled out of the situation by increasing the rate of compensation. It was markedly higher than what the CPI(M)-led Left Front government paid for land acquisition at Singur for the abortive Nano car-project.

True, the colonial LA Act, 1894 is outmoded and not in sync with welfare objectives of Indian democratic polity and its replacement has become long overdue. But the sudden eagerness to recast the law was not out of penchant for the farmers. It happened to meet the requirements for nearly 200 projects under Special Economic Zone (SEZ). An SEZ is a `foreign territory’, apparently for the purpose of duties and taxes, but labour laws are not applicable there. The new bill therefore is suspect.

Former rural development secretary, D Bandyopadhyay who is also the architect of ‘Operation Barga’, the USP for the CPI(M) for over three decades, opposed the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill of 2009 tooth and nail in an article in Mainstream. The new act demolishes even the semblance of welfare.

He wrote that a law is amended generally to bring in improvement or to be in conformity with some important judicial decisions. The Land Acquisition (LA) Act of 1894 does require revision to conform to the current-day situation. So far, there could not be any objection. But the way the amendments have been made looks as if we are going back on time. “In the amendments suggested, all beneficial, pro-poor and pro-rural areas points have been omitted,” he noted.

There is another point, which Bandyopadhyay, thinks “sinister and dangerous.” He goes on to elaborate his resentment. “It relates to any project of general public use (not public purpose) undertaken by ‘a person’ for which he has purchased or negotiated to purchase 70 per cent of the land and the remaining 30 per cent would be acquired by the state. The definition of a ‘person’ is ironic. It says, a ‘person’ means a company, association of persons, a body of persons whether incorporated or not. It means basically the corporate sector has been given a free hand in acquiring whatever land they like, a part of which will be through negotiations but the more difficult part would be through state intervention.” Obviously, the amendment tramples the very spirit of the Directive Principles of State Policy of the Constitution.

Lastly, where is the exit route? What happens if the project is dropped? The Tatas are still in possession of nine hundred and ninety-seven acres were acquired for setting up a small car factory. They abandoned the project in October 2008. What happens to the land? “The law is silent. In the early 1950s, the West Bengal Government gave 750 acres of prime land between the GT Road and the main Eastern Railway line in the district of Hooghly for setting up an automobile factory by the Birlas. In 50 years, the company could not use more than 300 acres leaving 450 acres fallow. Is it not a national waste that a prime land amounting to 450 acres could neither be used for agriculture nor for any industrial purpose for half-a-century? The new law should provide for a simple exit policy for return of the acquired land to the original owners if the project is abandoned, or the scope of the project is changed,” Bandyopadhyay argues.

No comments:

Post a Comment