For now, the storm is over. Untimely monsoons, which create much havoc for farmers, became a parliamentary allegory with the Congress raining on Modi’s parade over the Land Bill. In spite of all the manoeuvering that will follow, clouds threaten to hang low over the next session too. This is indicated in Sonia Gandhi’s decision to take to the streets in protest—a leaf taken from Indira Gandhi’s out-of-print book. Gandhian gargoyle Anna Hazare’s ‘jail bharo’ agitation is another stand-up act. These days nobody wants to go to jail for causes, let alone sweat it out on the roads for rabble-rousing. To be flip, people like shopping instead.
The truth is that India needs manufacturing and investment if it is to survive, let alone succeed—a truth Narendra Modi realises and is frustrated by the opposition. If passed, the bill would bring in infrastructure reform and boost manufacturing, thus providing employment to farmers whose land has been acquired. The government would also succeed in executing its promises of 100 smart cities, Dedicated Freight Corridor and the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor. The feeling on the ground that the NDA has failed to deliver, which is encouraged by the Congress, will escalate as the bill gets stuck session after session. The fight over the Land Bill is a fight over Rajya Sabha seats. If the Modi Wave of 2014 recedes in the coming state elections, the Upper House seats needed to push through reform may elude the BJP.
In the end, it is the farmer who loses. India’s agricultural sector is in deep crisis. Though the Centre told the Supreme Court late last week that farmer suicides have gone down since 2009 and is only 8.7 per cent of the over one lakh suicide cases in India in 2013, they have risen in Maharashtra, Telangana, Karnataka, Punjab, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, according to an Intelligence Bureau report submitted to national security adviser Ajit Doval. The IB has blamed it on the weather as well as unpaid loans, rising debt, low crop yield, low buying rates of grain and harvest failures. So, where does it leave the farmer? The debate between agriculture versus industry is as old as Jawaharlal Nehru. The main ideological opposition is coming from people in their late forties and fifties who grew up with pride in PSUs and a deep suspicion of industrialists controlling the economy. They are not the future.
The bill stipulates the government will acquire land for its own use or for the PPP model. By paying the right market price, this would only help farmers. The UPA bill allowed industry to lease land, instead of buying it; but the call is the Centre’s and not the farmer’s. The ‘urgency clause’, where consent is not needed to acquire land, is applicable only to national security and handling natural calamities. The compensation will not be less than six times the market value in rural areas and not less than twice in urban areas. The Centre will also pay each family Rs 3,000 monthly for a year, and also Rs 2,000 monthly as annuity for 20 years, adjusted to inflation. (According to the Sengupta Committee report, a farming family earns on an average Rs 2,115 a month.) One member of each family whose land has been acquired will get a government job or Rs 2 lakh each. In UPA’s bill, there was no guarantee of jobs, and compensation was calculated according to circle rates lower than the market rate. The acquired farmland was also vulnerable because state governments would decide whether unused land would be returned to the farmer or added to the state land bank, even if the compensation was returned.
All legislations can be subverted, but as long as there is a will to empower the farmer instead of finding loopholes to cheat him, the bill would change his life. Politicising his plight is only cynicism of opportunism, and not an act of self-belief. firstname.lastname@example.org