As was expected, the Modi government is going to amend the Land Acquisition Act which was enacted by the UPA government last year only. The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill was made an Act after due deliberations in the Parliament and various other fora. The new Act provides at least some safeguards to the land owners/communities and takes care of environment related issues to some extent. The number of amendments proposed by the Rural Development Ministry, if accepted, could dilute the new Land Acquisition Act in more than one ways in the favour of the private sector. The government plans the amendments so that corporate houses can acquire farmers’ lands easily at a low price with the help of coercive power of the State. One can argue that if the tenets of Free Market Economy are to be faithfully followed, enterprisers should purchase land for their industrial ventures in open market by paying the market price. The corporate houses, however, want unfettered scope for fixing prices of their products or in hiring and firing labour, they ask for use of coercive power of the State while acquiring natural resources such as land, forests, water, minerals etc. free or at nominal price. They feel that, being industrialists, they are obliging the whole society and hence ask for all such concessions as their right. Such double standards are an in-built part of selfish and profit-mongering class of Businessmen. They don’t care for any ethical norm of social behavior.
The point involved is not only protecting the farmers’ means of livelihood, but of planning for egalitarian and optimal use of limited natural resource like land. Agriculture is as necessary as industry for meeting basic needs of the people. Supply of land cannot be augmented. So, the lands under cultivation, as far as possible, must not be taken over for other purposes. Fortunately, in our country, about fifteen percent of surface land is such that it cannot be used for cultivation but can be utilized to locate industries or other similar projects. Of course, they are far away from the urban centers enjoying various infrastructure facilities. An enterpriser will have to put in special efforts for erecting such facilities there. The State may extend some help for establishing industrial projects in such areas. But it should not deprive the farmers of their means of livelihood, as also to protect the basic resource for production of food. An enterpriser can very well afford to spend a few more rupees for creating infrastructure facilities.
The Socialist Party (India) has been asking for formulation of a comprehensive ‘Land Use Policy’ so that best possible use of this rare natural resource can be made for the benefit of whole society and also for the future generations. The Socialist Party strongly opposes the proposed amendments in the Land Acquisition Act. The party appeals to the farmers’ unions to come forward in order to abort this anti-farmer move of the government.
Dr. Prem Singh