‘Archaic Bill robbing us of land, livelihood; amended Bill even worse'

A brainstorming meeting on forthcoming Bills on land, food, seeds and pesticides was stunned into silence when two participating farmers hit out at the government for the manner in which they were being displaced from their fertile land to satisfy the needs of corporates.

“The archaic Land Acquisition Bill is being misused to displace farmers and take away their land and livelihood but the amended Bill that is coming is even worse,” said farmer Pritam Chaudhary from Saharanpur.

Responding strongly to the suggestion that India “must become self-sufficient in technology or be prepared to face side-effects of foreign technology in agri-food sector,” Mr. Chaudhary retorted that Indian farmers had produced so much grain that the government was unable to store it. “Given the opportunity, investment and technology the Indian farmer can easily meet the requirements of the people and even produce surplus for export. Instead of facilitating American businesses, the government should look at this aspect.”

Appealing to the government not to take away farmers' land, Basvaraj Tambake of the Karnataka Rajya Ryota Sangha said that land was the only resource in their hand.

Seeking measures to encourage production of alternate seeds and their supply, he wanted agriculture production to move away from chemicals and toxicity and become self-sufficient.

The dialogue, organised by the Council for Social Development (CSD) and Navdanya — a network of seed keepers and organic producers — focused on how the forthcoming legislation — the amended Land Acquisition Act, Food Security Bill, Seeds Bill, Pesticide Management Bill and Biotechnology Act of India — would affect the farmers' rights to land, life, livelihood, seeds and the food sovereignty of the country.

K.B. Saxena, Land Reforms Commissioner and Social Justice expert, pointed out how the proposed amendment to the Land Act did not provide for any consultation process with those whose land was acquired. The definition of “public purpose” was worse than in the 1894 Bill. There was uncertainty about compensation and its process and no guarantee for employment and lost livelihood for farmers. “Under no circumstances should the fertile land in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh be acquired as it will affect food security,” he said.

Anne Raja and Mira Shiva of the Right to Food Campaign pressed for a universal public distribution system and rejected cash transfers under the PDS.

Vandana Shiva of Navdanya said the proposed bills were a “fast forward” in the direction which had led to farmers' suicide, made agriculture unviable, dismantled the food security system and made India, “the capital of hunger.”

She said the Seeds Bill would deregulate the corporate seed market and regulate the farmers and that it was designed to create corporate seed monopolies.