Gargi Parsai

NEW DELHI: “Land is the issue,” was the unanimous conclusion of a public hearing here on Monday on “Special Economic Zones and Land Rights” by Navdanya. It was attended among others by the former Prime Minister, V.P. Singh, S.P. Shukla of the National Committee on Agrarian Crisis and P.V. Rajgopal of Ekta Parishad.

“The largest SEZs were allocated to Mukesh Ambani. This is a criminal subsidy the State is giving to the rich by stealing from the poor,” said Vandana Shiva, who chaired the hearing.

While Mr. Singh reiterated that the Land Acquisition Act had no place in a genuine market economy, Mr. Shukla asserted that land would be the defining issue in Indian politics and economy.

Mr. Rajgopal who organised the recent “janadesh yatra,” said the struggle for land would not end till land justice was done.

Representatives from Nandigram, Gurgaon and Jhajjar presented reports on the violence perpetrated on village communities. Farmers from across the country stressed that farmers and tribals of Nandigram, Singur, Dadri, Kalinganagar, Raigad, POSCO and Barnala experienced bloodbath in their bid to save their land.

“Amend law”

The public hearing resolved that the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 must be amended to ensure that the government did not acquire land for private companies. It should serve the public purpose, which should be defined to mean those purposes for which the government will bring into effect the Directive Principles of State Policy under the Constitution.

It said that there was no justification for the SEZ Act, which was “anti-peasantry, anti-rural poor, anti-labour and anti-environment.” They country had developed without it. The developed and many developing countries had achieved growth without such a draconian, thoughtless and pro corporate-capital legislation, it pointed out.

In China, which is said have achieved galloping growth, land has not been transferred to the corporates and continues to vest in the state. The total number of such SEZs in China is only six.

The SEZ Act was pro big companies, pro rich and pro speculative finance capital. At best, it was intended to create islands of affluence for the benefit of a handful of rich, with no social, financial and legal accountability. At worst, it would cause an unprecedented situation in land and real estate.

The meeting resolved that the Rehabilitation and Resettlement policy should not become an underhand way to keep the outmoded Land Acquisition Act alive and give the SEZ a new lease of life through the assurance that 70 per cent of the land required will have to be purchased by the company/corporate and 30 per cent could be forcibly acquired for private projects by the government.

The public hearing demanded that the illegal buying of agricultural land in India by foreign investors be banned immediately. The government should publish a White Paper on the land grab by foreign investors.

It wanted all land use change to be subjected to a climate change impact assessment.