Rights are never given, they are always taken

September 6, 2015

– Govt finally bows to the will of people,withdraws Land Ordinance –

by Stan Swamy

Country-wide protests by Farmers, Adivasis, Dalits, People’s Movements, Workers’ Unions, Peasants Organisations, Political Parties took place during the past eight months against the unilateral imposition of Land Acquisition Ordinance, 2014. Such popular protests were not witnessed in recent years. But the NDA govt was adamant in trying again and again to get it passed in the Parliament. It went on to re-issue its Ordinance three times and it looked like it would do so even for the fourth time. Happily the opposition parties were united in making sure the bill would not be passed in the upper house. It meant loss of precious time in stalling the parliamentary procedure but there was no other alternative. So the people of India stood together, both inside and outside the parliament, and were consistent in expressing their disagreement with the Ordinance. People’s resistance took several forms such as rallies, public meetings, sit-in protests, conventions, street plays etc. Several prominent human rights oriented activists and intellectuals came out in the open to express their solidarity with the struggling people. At last, much too belatedly the central govt had to bend low before the will of the people and withdraw the Ordinance on 31st August. Verily a victory for the people.

The Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) which the govt very reluctantly constituted and is composed of 30 parliamentarians from the different major political parties, itself took exception to some of the important provisions of the Ordinance. Although it has still to submit its final report and recommendations, it became obvious that it is not going to endorse the Ordinance. Thus the govt was left with no option except to withdraw the Bill.
Why did people protest so strongly against the Ordinance? Because it was violating the basic principles of human justice and the letter and spirit of our Constitution.

(1) doing away with the Consent clause in the Land Acquisition Act 2013 is most unacceptable. It goes against the spirit of democracy and participation. It becomes more acute when especially the Adivasi small farmers who have nothing else but their small pieces of land to survive on are told that their land will be taken and their consent is not required. In other words, forcible acquisition of their land. This action of the State is inhuman and unjust. Hence it had to be rejected.

(2) cancelling the need for Social Impact Assessment is another serious breach of human trust and equity. It is common knowledge how unrestrained industries and mining have wreaked havoc on nature and environment. Forests have been denuded, rivers have been polluted, safe drinking water made scarce, air-pollution beyond bearable limits. Consequently animal and human life are increasingly becoming endangered. All this havoc is being caused by unscrupulous, greedy industrialists for whom profit is the only motive.
It is against this inhuman climate that the 2013 Act made ‘Social Impact Assessment’ mandatory for every big project. First a govt team composed of local administration officers are to study the possible impact of the proposed project. Later an independent team composed of scientists and environment specialists is to scrutinize the govt report and give its approval or disapproval to the project. This was a sane step. Of course it would take some time to complete this process. But the 2014 Ordinance did away with this assessment. Obviously because the corporates who are guilty for this environmental offense would not want this to be done because it would expose their past transgressions, and the present govt was bent upon obliging the industrialists on whom it is dependent to remain in power.

(3) forcible acquisition of multi-crop agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes was prohibited in the 2013 Act. Given the fact that 70% of India’s population lives in villages and is dependent on agriculture for its sustenance and at present its productive capacity is decreasing and the prices of consumer food items is rising, it is important that further alienation of agricultural land should by all means be stopped. As such it was a commendable step.

But even this aspect was negated by the 2014 Ordinance insofar as it removed all restrictions in forcibly acquiring any land for industrial purpose. Thus the withdrawal of the Ordinance is a great relief to the farming community.

(4) restore the acquired but unused land to the original land-owner was a provision in the 2013 Act. The background is the fact that lakhs of acres of land acquired for specific purposes is lying idle even after several years. The Act prescribes that if an acquired land is not used for the purpose for which it was acquired for five years and more should be returned to the original land-owner.

Even this provision was struck down by the 2014 Ordinance according to which acquired land can lie vacant for any number of years and there is no obligation to return the land to the original owner. This again shows how much lenient the govt is towards the industrial class and is ready to sacrifice the interests of farmers.

To conclude, may we say the struggle is far from over. The govt will be under increasing pressure from the corporate houses to make land acquisition easier and faster. The struggling people, especially the Adivasis, will have to be vigilant and be ready act decisively if any infringement of their rights is attempted at.

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