Activists oppose reintroduction of land acquisition and resettlement bills

Activists oppose reintroduction of land acquisition and resettlement bills

The proposed introduction of the Land Acquisition (Amendment) and Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bills by United Progressive Alliance (UPA) on the last day of the Budget Session despite of the objections by struggling peoples movements and one of the UPA key allies Trinamool Congress smacks of a conspiracy and only reflects the government succumbing to the demand of the industries, builders and corporations, said the activists of National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM).

"This completely belies the struggles of the millions of people who have been displaced in last sixty two years and millions more that will be displaced in coming years" said Medha Patkar, leader of Narmada Bachao Andolan and national convener of NAPM.

The Bills in their current form will only facilitate the acquisition of land as demanded by industries bypassing any liability of companies and government to rehabilitate and provide alternate means of livelihood to those affected. India has a poor track record of rehabilitating people in last 62 years and these two Bills by legtimising the private interest as public interest will only accelerate displacement from the land and natural resources, pauperizing farmers to fish workers. "It can't be an agenda for the aam aadmi, as is falsely claimed" said activists.

In 2006, National Advisory Committee (NAC) headed by Smt. Sonia Gandhi had recommended to the government drafting of a 'National Development, Displacement and Rehabilitation Act', most of the provisions of which were also endorsed by the people's movements across the country. However, shelving that Draft, the two Bills in their current form were brought out, which completely reject these recommendations and the demands which NAPM and many other movements across the country have been making for more than two decades now.

The Bills were earlier passed without any debate on the last days of the 14th Lok Sabha by UPA government in February 2009; thankfully it was rejected by the Rajya Sabha. The recommendations made by the previous Parliamentary Standing Committee or suggestions by people's organizations were also not considered. Repeating the same and bringing those same Bills in this session again now is a travesty of justice to the millions of suffering poor farmers
and adivasis.

It is to be noted that the current provision of the land acquisition by the State for industries were only introduced in the Land Acquisition Act in 1984 in independent India, prior to which the Act drafted by British in 1894 only permitted acquisition of land for village development, resettlement of displaced people, distribution of land to landless and other 'public' and socially purposeful projects.

The proposed amendments have gone a step ahead and redefined 'public purpose' as only activity of any public use by any person... where person includes a 'company', although a company has to purchase 70% of the land and 30% will be acquired; 100% for the project will obviously be 'marked' and threat of forcible acquisition will compel people to sell land even at lower price. The clause of 70:30 is also meant to completely evade any responsibility of resettlement and rehabilitation (R & R) and facilitate compulsory land acquisition for companies. As per the provisions of these two Bills any R & R benefits will only accrue to families in this 30% category from whom the land has been acquired compulsorily and that too if their number is higher than 400 in plain areas and 200 in hilly areas. Both the ratio of 70:30 and number of families (400 in plain and 200 in hills) is completely arbitrary, said NAPM leaders.

Retaining the 'urgency' clause in the British definition, which is no more applied to selected projects in the time of natural disasters, but to many projects considered to be of 'strategic importance' is misuse of the powers enshrined in the State authority. This will only muzzle any resistance by the people where these projects are to be implemented and increase State repression. In the news Bills, it has also been made now impossible for project affected families to go to the Court for demanding increased compensation, but any such claims will be settled by a group of administrative officials.

Social Impact Assessment and Environment Impact Assessment clauses are included, but they are not binding criteria for deciding on the project and also ‘National Rehabilitation Commission’ to be set up under this has not been enshrined with any power in approving a the project. The results of these assessments are not to be treated as a formality but should be actively considered as bases for design and implementation of any project. There has to be 'options assessment' to minimize displacement due to development projects as is the stated objective. We can't accept limitless disbursement, said activists.

The draft approved by NAC in 2006 addresses many of these lacunae, however, attempts at introducing two weak legislations by the UPA government is a conspiracy by those reeling under pressure from vested interests against the aam aadmi and towards pushing forward the neo-liberal economic agenda of the government, said NAPM leaders.

"These Bills at best are only attempts at whitewashing the pain and misery of the suffering displaced families across the country and nothing more. NAPM demands that the NAC draft be brought back in the public domain and Land Acquisition Bill be repealed. We resolve that as long as the UPA government works to fulfill the pro-industry agenda; poor farmers, artisans, dalits, advasis men and women of this country will continue to resist any attempts at take over of their land and other natural resources. If these Bills are pushed, no one can stop more of Nandigrams and indefinite delays as in Narmada. The conflict between the corporatized state and the people would continue" said Dr Sandeep Pandey, Magsaysay Awardee (2002) and national coordinator of NAPM and member, National Presidium, Lok Rajniti Manch (People's Politics Front).