By Bala Sai:
If one were to list the biggest headaches that the BJP government has had to face in recent times, then the land acquisition bill would be amongst the top five, and with good reason. Land has heavy sentimental value. Owning a piece of land is more than just an asset – it is a matter of pride and identity and a sense of belonging. Lives and livelihoods are shaped by it, and around it, especially if we are talking about the land that is used for agriculture.
The process of acquiring land for setting up industries and infrastructure projects is an issue that transcends the sphere of mere resource distribution, and concerns itself with a lot more, including human rights, freedom of choice, equity, justice and the forced encroachment of an assortment of rights, which we are promised as citizens of the country; putting a question mark on the very spirit of democracy.
It has proven to be too complex a problem to be easily delineated into zones of black and white. It isn’t a question of rich corporate predators terrorizing innocent peasants to steal their land – an image we like to generally paint. The point is that acquisition, particularly of agricultural lands, is not just inevitable, but very much necessary for our overall development.
Several factors have contributed to making land acquisition a particularly painful experience both for the buyer and the seller, incurring a colourful array of losses at both ends, of which a key factor is the presence of enough holes in the legislature to sink an island. Before the 2013 act came about, the quickest way to experience time travel was to have your land acquired by the government or by private players, in which case you promptly found yourself transported back to 1894 and its the laws, which were still being followed back then. The lives of the people displaced depended upon the philosophical interpretations of vague, ominous phrases in the legislature, and the procedures for acquisition were as transparent as a rock.
The Government’s National Policy for Rehabilitation states that since 1951, around 75% of the people who have been displaced are still awaiting rehabilitation. Lakhs of people have been displaced around the country to facilitate dam projects, infrastructure, and industrial development projects over the years. Small farmers and tribals with little bargaining power have had their lives turned around overnight, falling into the clutches of poverty, discrimination, and loss of identity, choked by loopholes in the law and middlemen who understood how to exploit them to make windfall gains. The tortuous process, held in a stranglehold by bureaucratic red-tapism meant that the industries had to suffer too, as they had to watch with growing agony, their investments putrefying and being eaten away slowly, by the clogged system.
In 2013, the UPA government at the centre tried to make amends to the injustice (while simultaneously seducing voters) with a heavily anti-industry, pro-poor act, seeking to send our country reeling back into a state of developmental stasis. The BJP, back then, played to the gallery, pressing for an even stronger act that would have cracked the trachea of anybody daring to think of development.
Today, with a resounding mandate, and with development once again becoming all the rage, the BJP has taken a perfectly acrobatic back-flip, proceeding to propose a bill that would basically reset the entire game. This move, predictably, has drawn a lot of flak, and the government seeking to flamboyantly ‘ordinance’ itself through all opposition, has further dented its image.
The proposed bill endorses temporary solutions like exemptions, while not addressing the root of the issue. We have seen enough wrestling matches between one side and the other to understand that the real, structural changes are the ones that are required to create an honest, quick, and transparent system with minimal government interference – which makes sure that neither of the sides feel violated, and no third party runs back home with undue profits.
So as to provide a succinct and clear definition of the problem at hand, AskHOW India has made an insightful slideshow that highlights the cobwebs that have settled around the core of the issue and provides important solutions that should be taken seriously if reforming the acquisition process falls anywhere within the realms of the government’s interests. You can find the slideshow here: