‘Old land Act fuelled Naxalism’

Rahul Wadke N.S. Vageesh | Updated on March 12, 2018

Jairam Ramesh, Union Minister for Rural Development

We are moving towards a situation where industries and real estate companies would be able to purchase land directly from the market. -- Jairam Ramesh, Union Minister for Rural Development

In the final scene of Bimal Roy’s 1953 classic film, Do Bigha Zameen (two-thirds of an acre), the protagonist — Shambu, a marginal farmer — returns to his village only to find that his land has been taken over, for a factory. He is devastated. As a final effort to connect with his land he grabs a handful of soil but is stopped by a security guard, who calls him a thief and forces him to throw the soil away. The film ends with Shambu and his family walking away from their land.

Cut to 2013. The Centre has brought in a new land acquisition Act with the promise that there would be no forcible land acquisition from farmers. The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013 also attempts to provide a higher compensation to farmers when their land is acquired, accompanied by a humane relief and rehabilitation policy.

Small farmers such as Shambu will not lose their land to Industry, going by what one of the main architects of the Act, Union Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh says, in an interview with Business Line.

He points out that although the cost of industrial projects will increase due to higher compensation to the farmers and land owners, the social cost will come down. He concedes frankly that Naxalism has been fuelled by the draconian land acquisition Act of 1894. And when farmers and tribals are repeatedly displaced from their land in the name of industrial development, taking to guns as a Naxalite is perfectly rational behaviour on their part, he admits.

Excerpts from the interview:

There is a perception that the new law on land acquisition will increase project costs significantly. CEOs are getting anxious over the implications of the Act.

The financial cost of land acquisition will go up. But the increase is for a valid and legitimate reason. It is climbing because the compensation for the loss of land being paid to farmers was laughable. It did not reflect the true value of the land for those from whom the land was being acquired.

But the social cost and the conflicts associated with land acquisition will certainly come down. The Act will make the process of land acquisition much more transparent and orderly.

Under it, you cannot acquire land in a hurry. Earlier, speedy acquisitions created a lot of upheavals in our society.

We are moving towards a situation where industries and real estate companies would be able to purchase land directly from the market.

The new Act does not apply the brakes on private purchase of land. It also does not put any cap on the private leasing of land. The Act only restrains the power of the state when it undertakes land acquisition. Studies by analysts show that the cost of land acquisition may go up but the overall project cost may not rise substantially.

What is the take-out from land-related agitations such as Singur?

When the Singur agitation was happening, I spoke to the then Tata Motors Managing Director Ravi Kant and asked him to consider an alternate location for the plant. I repeatedly told him to do some compromise somewhere. But he insisted that the plant had to be in Singur.

See what happened. It created a larger-than-life figure out of Mamata Banerjee. Before the agitation she was just another politician.

The attitude of industry — Yehin hum project lagayenge (we will set up the project only here) — has to change. Companies will have to pay more for land. We are a country with a huge population, where land is scarce. The sooner we recognise this, the better for the corporate world.

We have behaved in the most profligate manner when it comes to land issues. Industries and builders want everything on their terms which, in turn, creates social upheavals.

Will some of the provisions of the Act, which mandate 80 per cent consent of the affected families, lead to inordinate delays in land acquisition?

I believe that 36-45 months required for acquiring land is a reasonable amount of time provided you follow a process, which has been laid down in the Act. If the compensation package is right there is no reason why these timelines would not be adhered to by people. It’s better to go through some pain initially and resolve all problems, rather than acquire the land and face problems later.

Unfortunately, in our country, land acquisition is a jugaad process. People first acquire the land and say baad mei dekha jayega (we will handle the problems later). A lot of land acquisitions are stuck because of this attitude.

The new Act streamlines the processes for land acquisition, therefore it is voluminous. The old Act had only 40 sections but the new one has over 200 sections.

The new Act has come up because of agitations such as Singur, Nandigram, Bhatta-Parsaul and SEZ fiascos in Maharashtra, Haryana and AP.

In India, Special Economic Zones (SEZ) were supposed to export products to markets in the US and Europe. And though the global market has been bearish for the last five years, land acquisition for SEZ on a massive scale continued in India. Why?

When the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Act was passed, I was not a minister but a Member of Parliament. At that time I had made a statement in Parliament that there is the danger of a SEZ initiative becoming a real estate initiative. My remarks angered Kamal Nath (Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister).

Today, the lands for SEZs are being used for some other purpose or they are being de-notified, which has given SEZs a bad name.

In the past five to seven years, vast tracks of land were acquired for SEZs across the country but these zones never came up.

How can India have 400 SEZs, when China started with 12? A number of agitations in Maharashtra revolved around SEZs.

When an alternate location for Navi Mumbai Airport was being considered, land was not available because of the anti-SEZ agitations.

Will the provisions of relief and rehabilitation in the Act curb Naxal movements in various states?

Naxals use past injustice perpetrated by the administration for acquiring land as an excuse to incite tribals to take up arms. It becomes an emotive issue.

Therefore, the new Act has a great social significance, particularly in the Naxal areas. Mining, coal and irrigation projects in the tribal areas will be impacted by this Act.

I had visited a project in Chhattisgarh which was commissioned in 1972. The families who lost their land have still not been rehabilitated. Where will these people go if not join the Naxals — it’s perfectly rational behaviour on their part. When you are faced with an insensitive forest and revenue administration, a Maoist outfit is seen as a god-sent messenger!

Published on October 09, 2013

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