A ray of hope emerges on what has otherwise been a dark period for India’s farmers. The amendments to the dreaded Land Acquisition Bill were stopped in their tracks post the strong opposition from a resurgent Congress evidently led by a rejuvenated Rahul Gandhi. Admittedly, recent support from BSP leader Mayawati and the controversial AAP rally that was marred by the unfortunate and highly politicised ‘suicide’ of farmer Gajendra Singh Rajput also had a role to play in putting breaks and turning up the heat on what has now become a burning issue: The Land Acquisition Bill.
Put in simple terms, the amendments to the bill threatens to minimise the agency of one of India’s most important yet exploited sections of the economy—the farmers. I say this because sans the various technicalities and legalities that have been bandied about, the amended bill under the Modi government favours private companies and corporate over the farmers.
It may be pointed out that the bill when introduced by the Congress in 2013 did not get any opposition from the BJP, mostly because they were cautious not to appear ‘anti- poor’. Post-elections, however, the Modi government has thrown caution to the wind and has gone ahead suggesting the amendments in the area of the social impact assessment (SIA) and a shift in the 80 per cent rule for five sectors: defence, national security, industry, rural infrastructure and housing for the poor.
The concern that was expressed by the government was that an 80 per cent rule would require no hold-outs by any of the land owners. Accordingly, even if a few landowners hold onto their land, it can cause major delays in big, ‘necessary’ (read corporate MNC) projects. While the government is promising four times the market value of the land owned by farmers, this well may just be a carrot stick. A recent look at the phenomenon of bounced cheques issued by the government will tell you that. A recent case in point is when farmer Satish Chand’s `80,000 compensation cheque bounced. Chand was from Chhata village in Uttar Pradesh’s Mathura district and his entire wheat crop was ruined by the unseasonal hailstorms. The compensation promised to him is yet to be delivered.
I am all for ‘progress and development’, but why must it always be done at the cost of our most vulnerable section of society? From the protests in Narmada Valley against the fallow land that has been allocated to the farmers in exchange for the fertile tract in the Narmada basin, to the growing rate of farmer’s suicides, we have a clear indication that ignoring this section of society could be one of the biggest mistakes as a country.
To quote P Sainath, one of the most published authors on farmer’s suicide, “Suicide rates among Indian farmers were a chilling 47 per cent higher than they were for the rest of the population in 2011. In some of the states worst hit by the agrarian crisis, they were well over 100 per cent higher.”
Issues are compounded with the added hostility of unfriendly banks, high interest rates and the eventual loss of hope for the farmer. Ironically, it was AAP member Rakesh Iyer who has been quoted famously on the phenomenon prior to Gajendra Singh’s death: “Farmers’ suicides are totally unnecessary and in most cases, the result of man-made policies, not natural calamities. It’s not droughts and floods which forced farmers so much to take their lives, as much as the government’s intervention or the lack of it.”
The only resolution to beat the deadlock of the Land Acquisition Bill and other unfriendly legislations towards India’s farmers is a halfway solution. The 80 per cent rule cannot be altered and each acquisition that needs to be expedited should be looked at from a case-to-case
Dalmia is chairperson of Grievance Cell, All India Congress Committee