India is basically an agrarian country and this is where its real wealth lies (May 10). But farmers are always at the receiving end in the name of ‘development' which is not meant for their well-being. Owing to several reasons, agriculture in India is dwindling every year. The remaining tracts of agricultural belts are being targeted in the name of development. For example, paddy cultivation in Palakkad district, the granary of Kerala, is shrinking. Acres of fertile land are acquired for a coach-factory. And it is being called development.
Land acquisition is always a sensitive matter. Various governments have dealt with this issue rigidly and follow an oligarchic stance. After more than 60 years of independence, we still have the draconian British Land Acquisition Act of 1894. The absence of a political will to revolutionise such archaic laws shows the apathy of the government. In the name of enabling public utility, the government seems to be ensuring that the corporate world is the real beneficiary of such instances of land acquisition. The issue shows that people's participation in decision making is necessary.
Indian farmers have always been the victims of government policies such as revenue, land, and procurement of successive governments since the British Raj. While farmers are committing suicide, in certain States, in some other “well-to-do” agricultural States, they are at the receiving end for demanding adequate compensation. Is this the value we give to the food producers of the country? Infrastructure is a priority but it should not be at the expense of the lives of our farmers. The irony is that instead of evolving a national or State level policy, keeping in mind the concerns of land owners, governments usually resort to the use of unjust and excessive force which is clearly self-defeating in the long run. These types of measures can only lead to development of reactionary tendencies.
The farmers' agitation once again raises the necessity of scrapping, if not drastically amending, the Land Acquisition Act the British gave us in 1894. Since then, particularly after Independence, the circumstances under which the state can acquire private property, the procedure to be followed, the compensation to be paid, etc. have been thinned down to axe the very purpose of the Act and the rights of individuals.
One should not forget that people feel possessive of land including for emotional reasons. Corrupt political and bureaucratic practices like lack of transparency and bias in favour of or against individuals or sections have resulted in various forms of public opposition involving loss of lives and property. Will the government review the Act?