A piece of land means different things to different people. To a wealthy industrialist, it is one more input. To a salaried employee, it is an insurance against illness or an asset that can be liquefied for a wedding or any other exigency. To a farmer, it is a source of life and livelihood--a raison de'etre. The value of land thus, differs from owner to owner.
"If an entire nation of 300 million took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts," said Mahatma Gandhi. The proposed Land Acquisition Bill of the Modi government is the first step to turn these words of dire warning into a prophecy.
"Fertile land has not only been snatched from the farmer, it has been given for peanuts to corporations--causing further loss to the exchequer."
The bill intends to reverse the changes in the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation (Amendment) Act (RFCTLARR) passed in 2013 by the UPA government.
The Congress-led UPA brought in the Act of 2013 to rectify the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 and ensure equitable compensation and fair resettlement and rehabilitation of farmers and land owners. Previously, the acquiring authority could acquire a particular plot regardless of how the person whose land is sought to be acquired is affected. Further, the land owner was helpless without any safeguards or appeal mechanism to stop the process of the acquisition. The urgency clause, which never truly defined what an urgent need was and left it to the discretion of the acquiring authority, made it worse. Without a clear definition of urgency, almost all acquisitions invoked the clause, resulting in forced acquisition.
However, UPA's Act changed all this and put the concerns and interests of the farmers and land owners first. The compensation was fixed at four times the market value in rural areas and two times the market value in urban areas. It also stipulated that no land can be acquired in Scheduled Areas without the consent of the Gram Sabhas.
What made it progressive and people-friendly is also the provision that no one shall be dispossessed until all payments are made and alternative sites for the resettlement and rehabilitation have been prepared. The consent clause ensured that consent required of 70% of land owners in the cases of acquisition for the purpose of PPP projects, and 80% of land owners in the case of projects for private companies.
It also had the special provisions to safeguard the nation's food security. No multi-crop irrigated land is to be used for acquisition, unless an equivalent area of land elsewhere is cultivated, safeguarding the critical aspect of food security.
The Modi government is determined to push a bill that will undo, in one stroke, the much-needed changes brought in by the UPA to the Land Acquisition Act.
"If an entire nation of 300 million took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts"
The bill does away the provision that requires the consent of the affected families. It is estimated that the bill will affect more than 50% of Indian households who depend on farm lands for livelihood and about 10.9 crore direct stake holders.
As for food security, according to the changes brought in the ordinance, multi-crop irrigated land can also be acquired. There is no mention of a cap on the acquisition of multi-crop/agro land either.
Another draconian provision of the bill is that no government official or the head of the department can be prosecuted without the prior sanction of the government.
While the UPA's act ensured that the Village Panchayat was an active participant in the process, the Modi government's bill does away with the provisions requiring public hearing and Gram Sabha.
The Gujarat model of land acquisition
One look at the Gujarat model of dealing with land will tell us the background story of NDA's insistence on the amended bill. The Adani Group land holding in the late 90s was roughly 3,000 acres. Post Modi, it rose to 2 lakh acres, out of which 45,000 acres was given by the state government. The land leased to Adani was given @Re 1 to Rs16 per sq. meter. That company in turn sub-let the same subsidised land @ Rs600 per sq. meters to state owned companies like the Indian Oil Corporation. Mundra has a near self-sufficient infrastructure including a private railway line and a 2-km-long airstrip.
Gujarat has a coastline of 1,640 Kms. Limestone (deposits of 84 Lakh MT) is the natural barrier between sea water and underground sweet water. The entire coastline has been sold to large industry giants.
The Nirma case in Bhavnagar is an interesting case study. In order to halt the salinity ingress, a lot of reservoirs were built in the Bhavnagar region in the 80s and 90s--increasing the fertility of the land as large tracts of land in the Mahuva Tehsil came under the reservoir. Farmers started getting three crops a year, exporting mangoes, coconuts and other fruits. Several Agro-processing units came up, providing employment to thousands of local youth.
Modi Govt decided to give away 8,200 acres (7,500 acres for mining limestone) of this fertile land to Nirma for a cement factory.
When villagers from 20 villages started protesting against it, they were lathi-charged. When the matter went to the court, the Gujarat govt showed satellite images of dry summer season to prove that the area was barren and dry.
When the satellite images of the land during the monsoon and post monsoon period was shown, the Gujarat HC stayed the construction of the factory.
Take the example of the Reliance SEZ in Jamnagar where 6 villages; 10,000 acres; 3 crops a year; grazing lands were allotted to Reliance. The villagers filed a petition stating that SEZ is not public purpose. Unfortunately the Supreme Court stood with the Gujarat high court decision to not stay the land acquisition.
SIR (Special Investment Region) Dholera
920 square km of land--most of it agricultural--belonging to 22 villages and 15,000 families is being taken by the Gujarat government in a brazen manner for the then Chief Minister's flagship scheme called the Special Investment Region.
The same 22 villages had been identified under the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Project to be taken for irrigation. As per the guidelines of the Hon'ble Supreme Court, the land use cannot be changed.
These farmers cultivate wheat (bhalia variety, exportable), cotton and gram.
Notices were issued in January 2014 to take 50% of lands belonging to 60,000 people of Dholera.
The alternative land being given to them is coastal, saline and uncultivable.
As per law, any land which is not cultivated for three consecutive years, gets confiscated by the state. Thousands of poor farmers in the state, who could not cultivate due to unavailability of water, power or other resources, lose their lands every year. But, the Adani and the Reliance SEZs have been lying for several years without anything being done on them and not an inch has vested with the government. Are laws only for the poor?
The BJP stalled the Parliament on the issue of 2G and Coal blocks allocation. Their argument was that both spectrum and coal are precious national resources and should not have been allotted--they should have been auctioned. Coal blocks were recently auctioned under the Modi government.
Why don't they apply the same principle on land?
Is land not a precious national resource?
Why did the Gujarat government not auction land that was given away to ESSAR, L&T, Shapoorji Pallonji, Adani and Reliance?
Under the Gujarat Town Planning And Urban Development Act 1976, the state regularly obliges builders by announcing increase in the municipal limits of cities and acquiring land of adjacent villages.
At the proposal stage itself, 40% land is acquired in the name of infrastructure development, citing right of way, thereby frustrating the Land Acquisition Act.
GIDC also acquires land @46 lakh rupees per acre from the farmers and after converting it into industrial land, leases the land out to industries at a nominal price. Land allotted to Maruti and its ancillary unit was allotted in a similar manner.
Fertile land has not only been snatched from the farmer, it has been given for peanuts to corporations--causing further loss to the exchequer.
Apart from snatching the right to property, the proposed land bill of the Modi government also shows a stark absence of fair play. If a group of poor farmers join hands and seek the government's help in getting them land in Delhi's Golf Links to do agriculture, will the State oblige?