By Abhishek Jha:
In the BJP’s National Executive Meeting last weekend, the Land Bill kept the party members occupied. This follows a damage control Mann Ki Baat with farmers on 22nd March. After being drubbed in the Delhi elections and with reports suggesting differences within the party regarding the bill, the party leadership did need to boost the morale of its members. Accusing the opposition of spreading myths, the party now seeks to train 15 lakh members to reach out to the public and build a pro-poor, pro-farmer image.
Mann Ki Baat: The Cloak and Dagger in the Land Bill
But here’s the caveat. Is the party working for farmers and the poor or does it only seek to portray itself as such? A major amendment to the 2013 act (Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013) is the exemption of five categories of land usage from Social Impact Assessment, which include – “industrial corridors”, “projects vital to national security or defence of India” (which can include defence production), “infrastructure and social infrastructure projects including projects under public private partnership where the ownership of land continues to vest with the Government“, etc.
Modi argued in his radio broadcast that these projects – since they were to be used by the people and were in the interest of the nation- need not face any bureaucratic hurdles. While this broadcast was to dispel myth and propaganda, this trivialisation of Social Impact Assessment as a harmful bureaucratic procedure seems to be a step in the direction of myth-making in itself.
So what does SIA do? Broadly speaking it determines whether “the potential benefits outweigh the social costs and adverse social impacts” and whether “the project serves any public purpose“. If a defence project, a corridor, or infrastructure is to benefit the people, the assessment is unlikely to hinder the project. By doing away with it, however, there will exist no check whatsoever on the government. This would imply that if the government is to favour “a private entity” in a manner that does not serve public good and causes more harm than good, the government can nevertheless go ahead with it. This is a clear indicator that the 2015 Land Bill favours corporate loot. The “private entity” can effectively grab the land of farmers and the poor if only it does a project under the aforementioned categories, irrespective of any amount of social harm that happens. The “bureaucratic procedure” that the prime minister wants to short circuit here exists to prevent this from happening.
Instead the new bill sets up bureaucratic hurdles for the farmer. Sure – as the prime minster reiterated in his broadcast – the farmer can sue a public servant for failing in his duty. But the new bill proposes that this can be done only in accordance with section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which requires the sanction of the government before the crime can even be taken cognizance of by the court. If the government itself is to favour (as is evident from it bypassing SIA) the corporate honcho, why will it allow the court to even take cognizance of the crime?
In the Name of ‘National Interest’:
However, it is not surprising to see a government favour corporates who fund their elections and their coffers. Even with the previous act, they found a way to make a mockery of compensation by giving as low as Rs 2 to compensate rain-hit farmers. The Congress has paid the price of its rudderless, corrupt handling of power. BJP though seems to outdo its predecessor in its machinations, in the sense that it really has found the tool to exploit the poor without the poor being able to protest. When the Honourable Prime Minister invokes “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan” after a lot of emotional rhetoric and asks the gullible poor to prove his patriotism by sacrificing land for the development and security of the nation, he does not even need a law to force them into submission. There is a deeper hidden injunction here. The imagined guilt of being against the nation’s interest, of being a traitor, of being a Pakistani works better than any amount of mollycoddling. The BJP seems to have figured this out, for everywhere the government is questioned- from the parliament to television debates to its own executive meeting- it invokes “national interest”.
What this “national interest” is remains unclear though, for although the BJP accuses the Congress of having drafted the act in a haste, it itself passed it as an ordinance when the parliament was not in session, and has re-promulgated it after getting the Rajya Sabha (where owing to not enjoying the majority as it does in the LS, the bill won’t be able to get through) prorogued. The termination of the RS session shows that the BJP is clearly trying to stifle democracy itself. The parliament represents the people’s voices. After subverting it, is BJP now trying to build an image that the poor are in agreement with the bill?
Thus the image building exercise and perception campaign that the BJP decided on in its national executive meeting is so dangerous in its ingenuity, that it can very nearly be commended for it. One is almost tempted to say that the BJP may not be a bad party after all. They are ready to sink deep in the abyss of moral trepidation for the sake of this God like idea of development. As long as development can be invoked, anything and everything seems justifiable. When consent is finally manufactured, we sure will have hearts of steel. Five stars to you, Mr. Prime Minister.