By Arati Nair:
Another tumultuous session of the Indian parliament fuelled by histrionics and perpetual blame games has drawn to a close. After being gobsmacked by Rahul baba’s new found roaring proclivities, following 70 days of mute reflection, the ruling dispensation finally got its act together to discuss the most controversial piece of legislation of the season. The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Second Bill, 2015 became the proposed launch pad for many upcoming governmental schemes as well as a timely elixir for a defunct opposition to corner the government. Significantly, during the course of various discussions, both sections loudly staked their claim as the true messiah of the poor landless labourers and marginal farmers.
The fate of the proposed land bill, in its second avatar, hangs in the balance. The farmers, anxious of forceful acquisitions, are up in arms against the government. The political opponents too, smelling blood, have jumped into the fray (like wolves in sheep clothing, no less). Even traditional allies of the BJP are maintaining a careful distance, questioning the centre’s mulish intent.
The government sought to soothe frayed tempers by playing its broken record tune of land unavailability delaying Acche Din. The real clamour on the ground went deliberately unheard. Over the years, of the 804 major projects proposed, only eight percent have been held up due to land acquisition problems. The rest were delayed due to fuel supply shortages, financial constraints and disagreements between the government and private companies. Furthermore, the draft of the government’s National Policy for Rehabilitation states that around 75% of the displaced people since 1951 are still awaiting rehabilitation.
No reliable data is available about the unemployment situation due to forceful or coercive displacement. The skewed rehabilitation arithmetic of mega projects like Sardar Sarovar, Hirakud, Bhakra Nangal etc. notwithstanding, the unemployment rate in India since 2013 has been a barely manageable aggregate of five percent. This seemingly diminutive figure merely indicates that the major share of Indian workforce is engaged in self-employment, chiefly agriculture. Bizarrely, the state now wants to decimate this avenue and deems it prudent to relocate these workers to ‘productive’ factories as cheap labour. Industry, however, cannot accommodate such huge numbers. Even in China, with its robust manufacturing sector, the unemployment rate is 4.10 percent.
A survey by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) indicates that in India, over 90 percent of land owners are marginal farmers who own only about 43 percent of the land, while medium and big farmers, constituting only 10 percent have 57 percent land share. Thus, the remunerative benefits or the job offers being put forth by the bill will significantly help only a small section of affluent farmers. The tenants, sharecroppers and labourers employed in the fields will not be accounted for. The additional labour force will have to be absorbed by farm and non-farm entities in the rural economy itself. However, tenants facing eviction, including tribals, usually migrate to cities and become construction labourers, confined to ghettoized tarpaulin colonies, battling for resources and civic rights.
Once again, the poor are being asked to make sacrifices for the greater good of the nation by the blinkered ruling class. Rather than an inclusive institutional framework which accords equal dignity to all forms of work, the ‘white elephant’ called agriculture is being systemically euthanized.