‘Neither UPA nor NDA promised livelihood-based rehabilitation’

Social activist Medha Patkar has been in the forefront of the struggle for the rights and rehabilitation of project-displaced populations for over two decades, and has relentlessly pursued the formulation of a national rehabilitation policy. She spoke to Gargi Parsai at the site of the agitation in Delhi about the pitfalls in the National Democratic Alliance government’s proposed new Land Bill brought through an ordinance to amend the earlier Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, (LARR) 2013, enacted by the United Progressive Alliance government.

The government maintains that the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in LARR (Amendment) Bill, 2014 to replace the Ordinance is not against farmers and will help development. Your view?

That is not correct. We too are for development but the government’s idea is different because it not only wants to go in for corporatisation of every sector. But for that it does not mind misusing resources such as land — the life support of millions of people. Over decades people have been waiting for full-fledged livelihood-based rehabilitation which is neither fully promised in the new Bill nor is there in the 2013 Act of the UPA.

Was the NDA justified in bringing an Ordinance to change the land law?

There are about 100 Acts all over the country under which land acquisition goes on. Of these, 16 are Central Acts. The UPA brought three under the 2013 Act but 13 were left out as they had to be amended in order to make them consistent with the new Act within one year, that is by December 31, 2014, after approval from both Houses of Parliament as provided under Section 105. The NDA is giving this as the reason for bringing in the Ordinance, but the question is why did they wait till December 31? If the NDA amendments were in favour of the poor, then they could have made them public instead of bringing it through an Ordinance.

What does Social Impact Analysis involve?

It is the first pre-conditional phase before any rehabilitation. It is an analysis of the impact of the project on displaced peoples’ livelihoods, whether they would become jobless with cash but no permanent source of livelihood; whether their relationship with natural resources, the ecosystem will be affected; whether their community integration, as in the case of tribals and even non-tribals in rural India, will be shattered and they would be dispersed, as also, the effect on forests, fish and the food security when agricultural lands are going to be taken away. Under the Constitution, gram sabhas and panchayats have the right to planning and management of land, water, electrification, etc. Without granting that primacy to the local units, to take away hectares of land for mega projects is undemocratic.

Has the NDA removed the SIA and consent clause altogether?

Yes, and apart from those 13 laws, they have added five more categories for exclusion which include everything. This Act is applicable to public purpose projects besides public sector projects. So while defining public purpose projects, they have included infrastructure projects as notified by Department of Economic Affairs which includes mining, tourism, water power, [private] educational institutions, [private] hospitals and so on. The NDA proposes to bring the 13 Acts in line with the 2013 Act but have knocked off infrastructure projects from SIA and Consent provisions. This is a tricky matter. The most interesting part is that the maximum land acquisition, and so maximum social impact, will be in irrigation projects, but those have been excluded from SIA and consent and industrial corridors.

The government says corridors will bring agro industry into rural areas, promising employment.

That industrialisation immediately brings employment to local and project affected people has not happened anywhere. The latest CAG report on SEZs says that the land which is taken is not even used for industries and lies vacant for many years. That is why the 2013 Act said that acquired land lying unused for five years will have to be returned to the owner. But the NDA’s proposed Bill changes that, and has added that the land for which a project has been planned will not be returned. But they will go on extending the planning period and will never return the land to the original farmers. If the acquired land is not used for industry, where is the promised employment? There is no ceiling on how much land can be acquired for PPP and private companies, now defined as private entities. Remember there is a ceiling on agricultural land while the farmer is contributing to food security.

But land use has changed.

Yes. Consent was required of 80 per cent of people whose land is going to be acquired for private projects and 70 per cent for public-private projects. None for government projects — for mega dams or mega city or industrial development projects. In many cases, government acquires land and hands it over to corporates within a year. It becomes a government project for which consent is not necessary. Therefore, the Land Use Policy and any change in land use must have the consent of the people.

The government says it needs land for development and growth.

Yes, it needs land, but what kind of land? There is banjar land and wasteland lying in each State and also PSUs lying vacant for decades, and now they want to continue to acquire even multiple crop land. It is clear that agricultural land being diverted for non-agricultural use is reaching its limits. Within 10 years, according to the Economic Survey of India, about 150 lakh hectares was diverted. Multiple crop land should be the last resort, the 2013 Act says. But the NDA wants to remove this too.

The government proposes giving good compensation equal to four to six times the market rate.

This was hugely publicised by the UPA too. Actually what is provided for in the law is that for rural areas they will give two to four times of the market value and that too is left to the States to decide. States are defining the market value as decided by the guidelines set by the village tehsildar, which is kept so low that it is nowhere near the real market value which is five to 10 times more.

So do farmers have recourse under the law if they are short-changed?

Section 87 in the 2013 Act said that if an official violates any provision in the law for social impact or seeking consent or paying compensation and rehabilitation and so on, then the affected person could file an FIR. Now the Ordinance has changed that and it says for this the farmer will have to seek the permission of the head of the department or the State government…

Has the government spoken to activists during the protest?

We had been taken on board by the Congress government in the formulation of the 2013 law. During the NDA rule, even on the Narmada dam issue, the Prime Minister has not given us an appointment. No, there has been no dialogue with us on this issue that defines the fate of the country.

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 3:14:24 AM |

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