Jan Sansad, a coalition of 60 peoples’ movements, has demanded that the Government incorporate mandatory consent of a majority of Gram Sabha members on all matters pertaining to land acquisition in the Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011.

During the ongoing agitation and public hearing at Jantar Mantar here on land acquisition, agricultural reforms and food security, the coalition also said that the purpose of the Bill would be lost if all the Central laws used for land acquisition were not brought within its purview.

Addressing the Jan Sansad, Narmada Bachao Andolan activist Medha Patkar said the Government cannot take away land from people and give it to private companies. If the UPA Government was serious about addressing conflicts over acquisition of land and other natural resources then it must listen to the voices of those struggling or else it will only aggravate these conflicts across the country, she argued.

“The displacement which is indiscriminately being carried out is unacceptable to us. The need of growth, infrastructure and urbanisation cannot be fulfilled on the graveyard of millions,” she said, adding that “development free from demolition is important and possible. But for this kind of development to become a reality, democratic units like Gram Sabhas must get the primary right in establishing developmental planning.”

The coalition leaders announced that Union Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh had told them that the report on land acquisition would be made public soon with substantial changes.

While arguing that there was an “unwritten scheme to exploit villagers, farmers and labours”, Aam Admi Party leader Prof. Yogendra Yadav said they were not without the power to overcome this kind of “exploitation”. “Farmers have three strengths to overthrow this kind of exploitation: the land under their feet, their right to vote and their dignity and pride which is still intact,” he said.

During the public hearing, several experiences were shared by farmers across the country on how their land was being unfairly acquired and how the State Governments consistently failed to sort out the basic problems of farmers.

An activist from Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh, Kiran Kumar, said farmers in the State were facing difficulties because of lack of water. “In the last 10 years there have been seven famines and government schemes have been ineffective. Though Rs. 3,500 crore has been allocated to Bundelkhand, only 11 per cent has so far reached the farmers.”

The coalition demanded that no agricultural land be forcibly acquired for non-agricultural purposes, including single crop and multi-crop land. On the other hand, the Union Ministry for Rural Development has taken a stand that only multiple crop land can be excluded.

The coalition also criticised the present provisions of the Bill on resettlement and rehabilitation. “The proposed provisions of compensating employment with money and high rates for land acquired will only lead to speculative land market and will destroy the fragile economy of the rural hinterland which will lead to further urban migration.”

Calling upon the Centre and the States to address the agrarian crisis with the highest urgency and priority, the coalition passed a resolution asking for a farmers’ policy with a comprehensive framework that ensures dignified livelihood for all sections of the farming community and people’s rights over agricultural resources.

“We demand a statutory permanent income commission for farmers with the mandate of implementing an income assurance for all farming households – including small farmers, tenants, agricultural workers. This is necessary for ensuring food security and food sovereignty,” said the resolution passed by the Jan Sansad.

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