By Ananya Barua:
Since the historic landslide 67/70 victory of the Aam Aadmi Party, the country seems to be holding its breath to envision “big changes” in the Capital. Be it the reduction of water and power tariffs or the free Wi-Fi, and of course, a supposedly corruption-free state (thanks to the Anti-corruption helpline which is in progress) – all of these promises keep the spirits high as the new Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, shared stage with Anna Hazare at a protest against the Land Acquisition Ordinance.
Although it is true that the declaration of the Delhi Assembly election results have somehow subdued the cacophony of the customary accusations, which the contesting parties hurl at each other to establish their “deserving” victory, just prior to the elections; but the basic agenda still remains the same. To create a “transformed India” – which has always been, and still is, the punchline of the day.
But, what is this “transformation”? Various outfits have diverse definitions for it. I, however, would like to narrow it down to an industrially and infrastructurally strong India. Modi’s ‘Make in India‘ initiative promises such a thing, of transforming India into a manufacturing powerhouse, by wooing foreign companies to invest here.
Promising an employment boom, along with skill enhancement, the initiative incentivizes global investors who otherwise find it hard to invest here due to the convoluted rules and bureaucratic red tape – which result in delayed investment related decision-making or even an impediment to establishment of a free-market economy.
And, to facilitate this “ease of doing business”, the Union Government, under Modi’s lead, approved the Ordinance on the amendment to the Land Acquisition Act of 1894. The act, which was later, in 2013, passed freshly as The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (LARR), aimed at safeguarding the interests of landowners, mostly farmers, who were dispossessed of land. Despite its claims, the act in implementation mostly failed its purpose, and faced criticism from all sides.
On one hand the farmers argued for having been undercompensated, and wronged, when the establishment of private companies did not serve public purpose whereby no welfare trickled down to the poor. The act clearly stated that acquisition of land by the government was for “public” purposes, but in practice, the acquisition continued in favour of the private players, even at the cost of exemption of irrigation projects. Moreover, it rendered the claims of fair compensation baseless, once the ordinance neglected the Social Impact Assessment (SIA), which involved assessment of the negative consequences against the possible benefits. This, in turn, thwarted the determination of the affected population, thus, in practice, overturning the bill’s claim of fair compensation – even to the non-land owners (such as fishermen, sharecroppers, labourers, artisans, etc.). It even extended the period of possession of land, un-utilised, by the company or government, without the imposition of LARR’s strict penalties for transgressing officials. The extensive alterations brought about in the ordinance out rightly eliminated some of the key features of LARR, that previously safeguarded the peasants from arbitrary dispossession; jeopardizing their “hopeful” social stability.
On the other hand, the bill was criticised by industrialists, state governments and developers, for delaying projects, which increases the cost of land acquisition, and as a result prevents economic growth. Therefore, the ordinance issued on December 31 can rightly be traced as an outstretched advancement, in favour of the ‘Make in India‘ initiative.
With the elections over and done with, the strategic display of pre-election eulogies or criticisms of reforms and policies brought up by the existing government has now taken a lower tone. While Narendra Modi, along with the NDA government under his lead, is all set to pitch the ‘Make in India’ initiative at the World International Fair in Germany’s Hannover this April. The zeal of the protest against it, however, hasn’t extinguished yet.
“Why did we bring the Land Acquisition Act? We did it to ensure that no one forcibly takes away the land of the farmers. What did the Modi government do? It opened the route for anybody to capture the farmers’ land by bringing in the Ordinance,” Congress President Sonia Gandhi was found calling out to the deprivation of the farmers’ “golden dreams” earlier this month.
Even the new C.M. and Aam Aadmi Party chief, Arvind Kejriwal, had once navigated to this issue to serve as an agenda to woo voters, calling it a “dangerous” advancement that eliminated the clause mandating the consent of 70 per cent of farmers before the acquisition of land for public-private partnership projects (PPP) and 80 per cent consent for private projects. Arguing that this move was to assuage the big private giants, who had funded the party’s Lok Sabha campaign, Kejriwal did not mince words in lashing out at the BJP. Moreover, with his recent advancements at effectuating his criticism of the amendment of Land Acquisition Act, with extended support to Anna Hazare’s protest rallies, calling the bill “anti-farmer”, he is surely doing what he does best – “walk for the common man’s cause”.
Although this political pre and post-election nit-picking can go on forever, without benefitting the masses and especially the deprived farmers, directly, what comes to the point of saturation is whether this move by the government is actually a boon or curse to the nation, whose larger part is still into the depths of poverty and exploitation.
The Modi government, when elected to power, was successful in creating an image of being “business-friendly”, while clarifying the vision of racing India to newer heights. Although the World Trade Organization (WTO) veto in August did come as a jolt to this, they still managed to maintain their stance with advancing reforms to revolutionize the Indian economy. But the question that arises is – will the speed-racing to the top, riding on global players, in actuality uplift India as a whole or do the opposite?
“We have said many times that the Make in India policy should be changed to Made by India Policy. Make in India gives the impression that it is an invitation to foreign companies to come and make in India. Made by India is an encouragement to Indian entrepreneurs,” Dr. Ashwani Mahajan, an associate professor of Delhi University and the co-chairperson of the Swadeshi Jaagran Manch, commented in an interview while giving a deeper insight into the whole business.