A wave of unrest is once again sweeping across Western Uttar Pradesh over the land acquired for the Yamuna Expressway project. Agitating farmers in Bhatta Parsaul village of Greater Noida had on May 6 held captive employees of the Uttar Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation. When security personnel went to rescue the officials the next day, the farmers attacked them, and in the violence two farmers and two police personnel were killed. Fifteen people, including the District Magistrate of Gautam Buddh Nagar, Deepak Agrawal, were critically injured in the clashes,
The farmers are demanding increased financial compensation for the land they claim has been forcibly taken away from them to build the 165-km Yamuna Expressway, between New Delhi and Agra. When ready, the Expressway is expected to cut travelling time between New Delhi and Agra by an hour.
Chief Minister Mayawati has been blaming the opposition, saying it has been stoking the unrest that has already spread to parts of Agra, Aligarh-Tappal and Mathura.
Former BJP president Rajnath Singh as well as Samajwadi Party leader Shivpal Yadav, who is also the Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly, were taken into preventive custody as they headed to the protest epicentre in Greater Noida on May 9.
Congress MP Rahul Gandhi and party general secretary Digvijay Singh visited Bhatta Parsaul village in Greater Noida even as the party demanded a judicial probe into the violence.
Ironically, the war of words between Congress and SP on the one side and Mayawati on the other comes barely within days of the bonhomie between the three rivals in the state politics, witnessed in Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, which probed the 2G scam.
Last August too, proceedings in both houses of Parliament were disrupted after members of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Samajwadi Party vehemently protested the deaths of three farmers in police firing in Uttar Pradesh’s Mathura district. A platoon commander of the Provincial Armed Constabulary was also killed in the violence.
The state government had then tried to silence the protests by hiking the compensation but it found only a few takers for the sop. What has complicated the issue is that land was being acquired not just for the road project but also for townships to be built by the private party in charge of constructing the Expressway.
While the Mayawati Government is facing the music from all sides right now and is likely to suffer electorally also, the problem, as witnessed earlier in West Bengal, Orissa, Karnataka and other states, is likely to crop up again and again across the country as India urbanises and takes away fertile land from farmers to build townships to accommodate a burgeoning middle class, factories and office complexes, to build roads, mines, power plants and other infrastructural pre-requisites of post-agrarian modernity.
This leads one to the larger question of land acquisitions and the scope of the government in developing infrastructure projects. While there is a logic for the government to acquire land to construct roads, the million dollar question is whether it should also facilitate development of townships alongside by private builders.
As a commentator rightly put it, “a skewed understanding of what constitutes public purpose and private interests is at the heart of the problem. Clearly, the state governments ought to focus on building road and allow market forces to transform villages alongside the road into urban centres in an organic manner.”
Even the nation’s apex court appears to be in two minds on the issue. Last year, a Supreme Court Bench of Justices Aftab Alam and BS Chauhan, in a landmark judgement had said: “The whole issue of development appears to be so simple, logical and commonsensical. And yet, to millions of Indians, development is a dreadful and hateful word that is aimed at denying them even the source of their sustenance.”
The Bench said, “The resistance with which the state’s well meaning efforts at development and economic growth are met makes one to think about the reasons for such opposition to the state’s endeavours for development. Why is the state’s perception and vision of development at such great odds with the people it purports to develop? And why are their rights so dispensable?”
Justice Alam said the fears expressed by Dr BR Ambedkar in the Constituent Assembly had been confirmed. “A blinkered vision of development, complete apathy towards those who are highly adversely affected by the development process and a cynical unconcern for the enforcement of the laws lead to a situation where the rights and benefits promised and guaranteed under the Constitution hardly ever reach the most marginalised citizens.”
“This is not to say that the relevant laws are perfect and very sympathetic towards the dispossessed. There are various studies that detail the impact of dispossession from their lands on tribal people. On many occasions laws are implemented only partially. The scheme of land acquisition often comes with assurances of schools, hospitals, roads, and employment. The initial promises, however, mostly remain illusory”, the apex court observed.
Ironically, last week, the same Supreme Court made it clear to the Karnataka Government that it must implement the controversial Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor Project in terms of its 2006 judgement without further delay.
When the state Advocate General submitted that survey in respect of phase ‘C’ could not be completed in view of protest by farmers and the law and order problem, Justice VS Sirpurkar retorted “if you (Government) are afraid of law and order problem, then don’t rule the State. Farmers will always protest if their lands are acquired; that can’t be the reason for not implementing the project”.
Way back in April 2007, the Karnataka High Court had stated that the Karnataka Industrial Area Development Board was “indiscriminately” acquiring agricultural land in and around Bangalore and Bangalore urban and rural districts and Board officials had thrown all norms to the winds and in some cases, acquired entire villages.
The million dollar question is whether to accept the court’s earlier observation about the impact of dispossession from their land on tribal people or that “the farmers will always protest if their lands are acquired”.
A comparative study of the Indian and Chinese experiences vis-a-vis SEZs (Special Economic Zones or Special Exploitative Zones, as activists put it) makes it abundantly clear that while mostly coastal wasteland has been given for SEZs in China, in India, it has been mostly fertile cultivated land.
Unlike in China, where the ownership of such zones rests with the state, in India, it lies with the private corporations and yes, despite the highly successful experience of Shenzhen, the Chinese have gone only for seven SEZs so far whereas in India, where SEZs have been largely unsuccessful and faced bloody, bitter resistance, we are going for 400-500 zones, more than the total number in the world.
Besides, there are complaints from farmers in many states that land acquired for SEZs was being used for ‘real estate’ through ‘denotification’, with owners saying recession has made SEZs unviable.
In Singur, the average size of the holding agitating farmers stood to lose was one-twelfth an acre, which could only yield a meagre living. But these tiny patches of land were the only sources of livelihood for their owners and it made no sense for them to give these away without alternative, certain and better sources of livelihood being in place.
There are enough reasons to believe that the skewed land acquisition policy has contributed to the growth of the Naxalite movement in the country, which the Forbes magazine recently described as India’s Dirty War.
One does not understand why the Government wants to give thousands of hectares of land which is agricultural land, for non-agricultural purposes. Where are farmers in the entire structure? While state Governments talk of job growth but they do not talk of how many thousands of people are uprooted from their homes and culture and are deprived of their sole source of livelihood.
Last year, Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Ajit Singh had drafted a ‘land acquisition amendment bill 2010’ and sent it to leaders across parties, demanding that State withdraw itself from buying land for private entities by shrinking its role to 15 per cent, and that any acquired land not put to intended use inside five years should revert to its original owners. He wants a Social Impact Assessment (SIA) for every acquisition which displaces 100 families in plain areas and 25 families in hilly areas. For SIA, UPA’s bill seeks displacement of 400 families in plains.
UPA’s amendment bills on Land acquisitions and Relief & Rehabilitation, shot down by Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, only talk of the land reverting to government. Banerjee had vetoed UPA bills on the grounds that post-Nandigram, she cannot back a bill which legitimises state role in acquiring land for private parties.
The experiences in Singur, Nandigram, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Orissa and Bangalore highlight the need for a progressive land acquisition law that clarifies the role and responsibility of the state, the private sector and the stakeholders, in the matter of land acquisitions while assuring fairness and certainty of long-term sustainable income and to those who lose land and livelihood. With reduced forest cover, decereased agricultural growth, subsidies and income and spiralling cost of living, the tribals and farmers should be made facilitators and partners in an inclusive growth model and not viewed as disposable obstacles on the path of development.
One can afford to ignore this festering wound only at the nation’s peril.