Halt the capitalist offensive to forcibly acquire lands of peasants and tribal people
The Minister of Road Transport and Highways, and Rural Development, Shri Nitin Gadkari, has initiated a discussion through the monopoly media on changing key provisions of the 2013 land acquisition law, declaring that “development” is being hindered by the present law.
Gadkari made these comments following his meeting with states revenue ministers on 27th June. Representatives from 12 states – under governments of BJP, Congress and other regional parties, were present at this meeting. All of them expressed their disagreement with the provision in the Act that requires the consent of at least 70% of the people for acquisition of land for public-private partnership projects, at least 80% for acquiring land for private companies and of a majority of members of the gram sabha or all adult members of a village, in the case of acquisition or alienation of land in the Scheduled Areas. The states also opposed the provision for a Social Impact Assessment (SIA) study which has been made mandatory in all land acquisitions; their complaint was that it would be too “time consuming and leading to cost escalation in small projects”.
This reflects the view of the country’s big capitalists who have been crying that the 2013 Act “impedes development”. They are of the view that such provisions give opportunity to the peasantry and tribal people in various parts of the country to resist land acquisition by the state on behalf of the capitalists. The capitalists are also against any provisions in the Act that imply an increase in their project costs by having to pay compensation and cost of rehabilitation of the affected people.
Powerful opposition by workers, peasants and tribal peoples in different states of our country to forcible land acquisition by the state on behalf of big capitalists had forced the UPA government to abrogate the hated 1894 Colonial Land Acquisition Act. That Act allowed the State to acquire the lands of peasantry and tribal peoples by simply declaring it was for “public purpose”. According to estimates, more than 6 crore people have suffered displacement through various projects in different parts of the country as a result of land acquisition under that Act since 1947. All the much touted “relief and rehabilitation” measures of successive governments have proved to be a cruel fraud on the people who have been deprived of their source of livelihood as a result of this forcible acquisition.
The UPA government made sure another law on Land Acquisition was put into place in 2013 before repealing the Colonial Act. Renamed “The Right to Fair Compensation, Resettlement, Rehabilitation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Bill, 2013”, it was approved by the Lok Sabha on 29th August and the Rajya Sabha on 4th September. The President’s assent to the Bill was obtained on 26 September, and the Act came into effect on 1 January 2014. This Act was based on an agreement between Congress, BJP and other parliamentary parties.
It is not coincidental that Shri Gadkari has the portfolios of Road Transport and Highways on one hand and of Rural Development on the other. The big capitalists want, amongst other things, immediate clearing of all roadblocks due to delay in land acquisition, in developing the Golden Quadrilateral and other highways as well as other infrastructure projects. They want to create an even more favorable climate for Indian and foreign capital to invest in setting up various captive townships along these highways. They want to set up hydro electric projects in the hill states such as Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, projects which are facing widespread opposition from people since they have endangered the livelihood and lives of lakhs of people in those regions and destroyed the fragile environment. Gadkari has been charged with the task of easing the process of land acquisition for these and other “small projects”.
The existing Act already provides enough scope through various loopholes, for the government to acquire land without having to obtain consent. It allows the government to acquire land without any consent when it declares that it is for a “public purpose.” It specifically excludes from its provisions 13 Acts, such as the Atomic Energy Act, 1962, and the National Highways Act, 1956, Electricity Act, 2003, Railways Act 1989, and so on. It also includes an urgency clause for expedited land acquisition.
News reports indicate that the key change that the Minister, in his avatar as Rural Development Minister, wants to bring about is to amend sections dealing with “Public Purpose” and the urgency clause Section 40 of the Act. This urgency clause Section 40 states that the government would be empowered to acquire land on an urgent basis with a notice of just 30 days, for the purposes of defence and national security and for reasons arising out of national calamities. One proposal is to add the purpose of road building and government or public-private power projects to the list of purposes for which land can be acquired under this urgency clause.
At the same time, the Minister has declared that there will be no tampering with the Act as regards compensation, rehabilitation and resettlement. Farmers and tribal people are supposed to be “happy” at this “concession”! The whole history of “compensation, rehabilitation and resettlement” by the state shows that the state has never been bothered about ensuring the security of livelihood of the affected people.
When the Clause on “Public Purpose” and the “urgency clause” were added to the Act, there was widespread opposition from peasants. The main reason for this opposition is that this enabled the government of the day to forcibly acquire land on behalf of the capitalists without the consent of the affected people. It confirmed that the main purpose of the 2013 Act was to enable the acquisition of large tracts of land by the capitalists irrespective of its consequences for the tillers and for the whole of society. Gadkari’s predecessor, Jairam Ramesh, had, in the course of championing the Bill through its various amendments till it was tabled in Parliament, declared that this Act has to be investor friendly, and in the same breath he talked about how this Act has introduced a “balance” between the needs of “growth” (read: capitalist development) and “equity”. He declared that the government would use the emergency provision only when there was no doubt that it was in the national interest.
The working class cannot accept that the State has the right to forcibly acquire the lands of the peasants and tribals under any pretext. The peasantry and tribal people will never oppose their lands being put to actual public use for their benefit, such as the building of schools and hospitals and residences for themselves and their families. It is because they know that aim of the acquisition of their lands is not to improve their well being, but to ensure maximum profits for the capitalists who are eyeing their lands, and that their lives will be ruined as a consequence, that they are opposed to forcible land acquisition
The principled position that the Communist Ghadar Party has put forward on the question is that there is a need for a new legislation on land. This must be based on the principle of harmonising the interests of different users of the land with one another and with the general interest of society. It must guarantee secure possession of arable land in the hands of those who are tilling it. We must oppose any offensive that is not in consonance with this principle. Land use must be regulated according to a social plan that takes into consideration the needs of agriculture, industry, services, residential space and other social needs.
This can be ensured only when the present orientation of the economy is changed. The present orientation looks at peasants and tribal people as a problem blocking the drive of the big capitalists to make maximum profits. The working class fights for a reorientation of the economy, so that fulfilling the growing needs of the rural population and ending the discrimination against the countryside, which is a central feature of capitalism, is given the highest priority. The working class fights for real rural development, which can take place only by continuously raising the standard of living of the rural population. We need to establish the rule of the workers and peasants in place of the present rule of the capitalist class in order to ensure the well being of the rural population.
The bourgeoisie talks in the name of the people, but in fact, does not believe that people have any claims on the resources of the country. The amendments it is pushing for are precisely in this direction – it denies the rights of the tillers to till their land. It declares that there is no need for the consent of the people whose very lives and livelihood depend on the land.
The Communist Ghadar Party calls upon all organizations of workers and peasants of this country to resolutely oppose any and all attempts of the government to amend the Land Acquisition Act and make it even more favourable to the capitalist class. Let us work to forge the militant unity of workers and peasants organizations of our country in defence of the rights of the toilers and tillers.