The response to my article by Mr. Jairam Ramesh, Union Minister for Rural Development, and his colleagues is a welcome move towards a public debate which we have suggested, time and again, should be held in every State with all people’s organisations. I would like to briefly reply to some points in the Minister’s response:

His argument that land is finite cannot be used to justify forcible acquisition. The Bill proposed by the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) is clinging on to a colonial legacy. The consent of the gram sabhas, the community and people should be the precondition before any natural resource, land or mineral, is acquired. Exceptions can be made in post-calamity, post-riot situations or in acquisitions of land holdings that are above the ceiling. Can a decentralised Development Planning Act serve the purpose? Let the community put forth its vision and plan as per Article 243 of the Constitution; what is completely unacceptable is for the government to acquire land for private and PPP projects.

Saving agricultural land for food security and for the livelihood of crores in this country is a must for our survival. The All Party Parliamentary Standing Committee itself has realised this. Not 18 lakh, but 180 lakh hectares (typographical error in the original article) was diverted in a decade for non-agricultural purposes. We are not against, but for true industrialisation. The trend of industries grabbing land and public resource, next to expensive public infrastructure and using it for recreation goes against all norms of public purpose.

It must be reversed. The States too must be restrained in the public interest from undertaking forcible acquisition.

“Public Purpose,” as defined in the Bill is widened beyond acceptable limits through a new fraudulent category of “public interest” projects. Even the British never did this.

The rehabilitation provided by the Bill is certainly not fair, nor adequate for an alternative livelihood. Cash being no option, land for land as provided in the 2007 policy (with “may” as a prefix) is also not in the amended bill. How can the government not have enough land for rehabilitation, when it can and does purchase thousands of acres of land for private corporations and entities? Also, why is no one talking about rehabilitation of those already displaced? Make the law applicable with retrospective effect and include all other Acts with the “acquisition” clause under the new Act.

The present Bill has gone through certain improvements based on our critique and the recommendations of the Standing Committee, yet it falls far short of what is required to protect natural and human resource-based communities and uphold truly democratic development planning. This is the view of the masses, not the corporates. On which side are the government and political parties? They can’t sit on the fence when farms are burning.

(Medha Patkar is a social activist and founder of Narmada Bachao Andolan and National Alliance of People’s Movements.)

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