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No freedom for farmers

The new land acquisition act disempowers farmers,repeating errors the Congress has made since Independence.

Written by Sharad Joshi |
August 12, 2011 12:08:38 am

Jairam Ramesh,the new minister for rural development,has put the draft of the National Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill,2011(LARR) online. According to the draft,land acquisition can be done for any public purpose,including development of industry,development of infrastructure,special economic zones and so on.

The fact is that most recent problems relating to industrialisation and development of infrastructure could have been resolved at the dawn of Independence itself,had not Jawaharlal Nehru brought Soviet-brand socialism into independent India. Nehru,with a marked animus towards agriculture,sought to demolish the rural leadership — for example,by replacing moneylenders with a network of cooperative institutions that permitted the draining away of rural savings to the urban populace. At the same time,he deliberately followed a policy calculated to depress agricultural prices. Had it not been for these Soviet-type policies,the problems listed by Jairam Ramesh in the draft would not have arisen in the first place.

Japan is an example. It followed,from as early as 1921,a policy calculated to give its farmers a price for their paddy that was as high as four times the international price. This created the primary capital in the hands of farmers,which they promptly used for developing the cottage industries that Japan is justly famous for.

These cottage industries,little by little,developed assembly plants to put together the parts they produced. The consequence was that most of Japan’s major industries developed in the countryside,with the capital owned mostly by farmers,the primary producers. There was no question of any land being arbitrarily taken away from farmers for the development of industry,infrastructure and urbanisation. There would have been no rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) problem either.

The legislation Nehru brought in to abolish zamindari was rejected by most courts in the country as being violative of the fundamental right to property,including its acquisition,maintenance and disposal. Undaunted,Nehru moved the very first amendment to the Constitution — to abridge the fundamental right to property. His daughter,Indira Gandhi,gave that right a final burial. This established here the principle of eminence juris,copied from the British system,broadly meaning that the land belongs to the monarch and can be taken away only through due legal processes. This was unknown in the Indian system,where the land was considered to be the property of the village. Jairam Ramesh,had he done his homework properly,would have found that he is now grappling with a problem created by Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi,both near-deities to the Congress.

The LARR draft proposes the creation of a network of regulations so comprehensive that it will please bureaucrats,who will find their opportunities for corruption greatly expanded. The bill offers a package that is in no way better than the package that was offered to the Narmada Project displacees. The payment of an initial lump-sum calculated in terms of the stamp value of the land to be acquired; a cash payment for transport cost; a built house to each family displaced; and the establishment of community organisations like schools,hospitals and so on are all there. To these are added the offer of a share in equity; the offer of a job in the acquiring company; a subsistence allowance for 12 months and annuity for 20 years for each family,landholder or landless — and the offer of 20 per cent of the developed land in case of acquisition for urbanisation.

But the stipulations for the distribution of these benefits,by treating a family as one unit,will only result in further fragmentation of holdings,and create a large number of disputes which the present judicial system cannot even begin to cope with. It is lucky that the bill has not committed Medha Patkar’s mistake,too — she,at one stage,proposed a “land for land” formula. This had permitted the bureaucracy to make money at both the purchasing and the disposal ends. The new draft does not even seek to give land for land,fortunately realising that agriculture is a losing proposition and that most farmers want to quit it in any case.

There is no remedy in Jairam Ramesh’s draft to the problem of food security. If land acquisition proceeds at anything like the present rate,and the government continues to create hurdles in the path of the farmers — like cutting power,non-availability of credit,fuel prices inflation,and measures that further encourage the fragmentation of land — food security will become a pipe dream.

Problems of industrial and infrastructure development,as also the problems relating to food security would have been easily resolved by following the Japanese model,and allowing Indian farmers a price for their produce that is attractive. The ideal solution lies in allowing farmers to continue unhindered in agricultural cultivation,if they so wish,but also permitting them the full liberty to dispose of their land — like the freedom that was given to the textile mill owners of Mumbai after the mills went bankrupt,permitting them to dispose of their land to any person,at any time,and at a price that suited them. Jairam Ramesh’s magnanimity in stipulating that multi-cropped irrigated lands will not be acquired under any circumstances like saying that invading marauders should not take away your prettier daughters,only the less attractive ones.

Jairam Ramesh has honestly admitted that,so far,in most cases R&R has not kept pace with acquisition. In many cases,the time gap has exceeded several decades. He would do well to start from scratch and examine the genesis of the problem caused by the Land Acquisition Act,1894,and the tinkering that was done to it,particularly at the time of introduction of Schedule IX to the Constitution.

The writer is the founder of the Shetkari Sanghatana. He is based in Pune

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