Modi's tryst with Land acquisition bill

India needs infrastructure, but at what cost? Is the idea of India as being envisaged by the Modi regime in consonance with the idea that has been conceived by the poorer and marginal sections of the country as well? 

Gajendra Singh Kalyanwat is dead. May his soul rest in peace. A full-blown political blame-game has been unleashed upon the country. Union Minister for Home Affairs Rajnath Singh has adopted accusatory tones towards the Aam Aadmi Party. The AAP, in turn, has hit back and accused Mr Singh of being a liar. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been candid enough to admit that maybe his Government of the past 10 months also made mistakes similar to the ones made by previous Governments. In this entire melee, what happens to the issue at heart — the fate of The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill, 2015?

First, the facts: Gajendra Singh was not the first farmer who committed suicide. (His family members are now vociferously protesting against the fact that he was a poor farmer with any suicidal tendencies.) But there is a certain impact of a death captured live on cameras. That’s the main reason why, top leaders from across the political spectrum have been making a beeline to Dausa in Rajasthan, from where Singh hailed.

According to figures released by the Government, a total of 257 farmers have ended their lives in Maharashtra alone, between January and March this year. Not for nothing is Maharashtra the suicide capital of Indian farmers. Did you see the same mad rush by our class of netas there?

The National Crime Records Bureau points out that year-on-year, a staggering 11 per cent of all suicides reported in the country, are by farmers. But these figures haven’t really stirred up the conscience of the media in a manner that Gajendra Singh’s passing has. 

Singh’s death reminds us of the self-immolation of Rajiv Goswami, the young student activist who ended his life during the Mandal agitation in 1989-1990. That single act spread like wildfire across the country, leading to the loss of many more innocent lives. It became a turning point in the entire discourse on reservations. Singh’s death has also turned out to be a similar turning point. Not for nothing has an otherwise aggressive Mr Modi gone on the back foot on the subject.

So, what went wrong? A close look at the amendments to the land Bill, being brought by the BJP Government, suggests that the proposed legislation is not completely a loss-making proposition for the farmers. It includes a four-time price of the land and the right to reclaim 20 per cent by paying the development cost vis-à-vis removal of social impact assessment from a few areas of public importance. One can travel to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan and ask the farmers if they want their future generations to be dependent on the farm sector. Without heavy investment from the Government, agriculture isn’t an attractive sector. So, should the Government think of improving the work conditions of the farmers or should it compensate them for their farms, and hope that industry will eventually create a better future for them?

Mr Modi, who created his political career by bringing a corporate revolution of sorts in Gujarat, is convinced that the best way to beat poverty and improve the lifestyle of the poor farmers is by establishing industries in the rural areas. This is a valid thought. But how does the Government communicate this idea?

On every one of his foreign trips, Mr Modi has had one constant companion: The chairman of Adani Group, Mr Gautam Adani. The corridors of power in Delhi have been abuzz since the change of Government at the Centre about the warm relations between Mr Modi and Mr Adani. It is this image that the Opposition has been using to dub the Prime Minister as being in bed with the ‘big, bad’ corporate world.

The debate on the land Bill has been reduced to a game of political mudslinging, rather than one based on facts. The truth is that, according to the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India’s report, out of a total of 60,000 hectares of land acquired for setting up Special Economic Zones between 2006 and 2013, as high as 53 per cent has not been put to any use. What is the present regime planning to do with this? Government estimates show that 60 per cent of all the people displaced, since independence, for various development projects, have not been properly rehabilitated.

Union Minister for Agriculture Radha Mohan Singh himself pointed out in the Lok Sabha that a vast majority of land acquired was for building dams and bridges. Does this not show that it is the policy of relief and rehabilitation that should have been given more importance? Since there has been a death captured on camera, this writer is not too sure whether the debate can now  centre on facts.

The land acquisition Act is based on the doctrine of eminent domain. It’s based on the following two Latin maxims. First, Salus populi suprema lex (people’s welfare is the paramount law). Second, Necessitas publica major est quam (public necessity is greater than private necessity). On both these principles, the Government may well be right in its intentions, but it seems to have got its strategy completely off the mark, as far as its ability to sell its plans to the citizens is concerned.

The entire approach reminds one of the famous words Mr Modi’s predecessor, Mr Manmohan Singh used. In 2012, when inflation was going through the roof and the UPA was coming in for a fair bit of flak, the otherwise reticent Prime Minister chose to address the country on Doordarshan. He stated bluntly, “Money doesn’t grow on trees. We have to be ready to take tough decision.”

Such words, coming from a well-read man, seemed as if he was making a comment which was totally devoid of emotion. Prime Minister Singh had to pay a heavy price for it in 2014. Mr Modi was, till now, perhaps making the same mistake in the context of the land acquisition Bill. He had been looking at the final destination, and not at the process of getting up to that destination.

The death of Gajendra Singh will hopefully send the Government’s managers back to the drawing board. They should figure out what needs to be done to convince the farmer of the steps being taken by the Government to protect the former’s interests. Politics, at the end of the day, is as much about facts as it is about perceptions. No one knows this better than Mr Modi himself.


Tags: BJP, Land Acquisition Bill, Narendra Modi