Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to be ignoring the writing on the wall when he blames the opposition parties for blocking the Land Ordinance, which seeks to do away with the farmers’ consent for a large number of PPP projects involving building industrial corridors, housing etc.
While inaugurating a 1200 MW power plant in Madhya Pradesh a few days ago, Modi attacked the opposition for coming in the way of progress. “Why are opposition parties against building schools, hospitals and roads”, he asked. The PM was at his rhetorical best, which is par for the course. The only problem is Modi seems isolated in this game because the RSS leadership also has strong opposition to the Land Ordinance. However, Modi cannot publicly attack his own mentors. In fact the RSS is holding a two-day meeting of its top leadership later this week where it will do a detailed analysis of the government’s performance so far. The land ordinance, among other key decisions of the NDA, will be discussed threadbare.
Modi and his key advisors in the government have not grasped the central point about the Land Ordinance. In his rhetorical flourishes, Modi may link the land ordinance directly with the development of roads, schools, hospitals and housing. Unfortunately, he is appearing less and less convincing. He gets carried away by his own demagoguery and sounds as though roads, electricity, schools and hospitals were a recent invention, as if no real development happened before Modi ascended to power. Taking cue from the PM, the BJP spokespersons too parrot the same lines suggesting that no development happened in the ten years of UPA. The fact is that a lot of unregulated and haphazard land development happened during the UPA regime—such as indiscriminate allocation of land for SEZs which are now pure real estate plays—making businesses very happy at the cost of farmers who realized how cheaply their land was bartered away with the State playing a facilitating role.
The larger truth is precisely on account of the past development paradigm — the farmers have become acutely aware of the rising values of their land and are in an agitation mode because they realize how badly they had got shortchanged by both the state apparatus and businesses acting in tandem.
Modi must realize one plain fact: the farmers today don’t trust the State agency to act justly on their behalf. Even the Gujarat example, where a lot of development is supposed to have happened, does not give confidence. Gujarat has seen widespread farmers’ agitation against unjustified land takeover by government agencies. Not just Gujarat, every other state provides examples of how Chief Ministers have used their discretionary powers to allot land for power projects or private education institutions several times more than what is actually required. A retrospective audit of excess land grab in the guise of “development projects” is bound to produce shocking results.
Given this backdrop, the farmers just don’t trust the State agency as playing an honest arbiter or broker in implementing the new land acquisition ordinance. This is the real issue at stake. The idea of the State acquiring land on behalf of the private sector in big PPP projects of housing and industrial corridors as anathema to the ordinary farmer. Can the political class win their trust overnight? Not likely.
In the name of development and cooperative federalism Modi wants to empower the CMs and give them powers to acquire land without the farmers’ consent. So far neither the Centre nor State governments have shown any sensitivity towards the real long term needs of the farming community. If a social impact assessment(SIA) is done retrospectively for all the big land grabs that have happened in various states over the past 20 years, the results would be instructive. Businesses dealing with land have thrived even as local communities have gone invisible. This is a reality represented by recent history which the NDA government cannot ignore. Modi cannot talk about development in a vaccum. He has to contend with the experiences of the recent past, including that under the NDA regime. Besides, Modi must listen to voices from within the Sangh Parivar. The BJP Chief Minister from Haryana, Manohar Lal Khattar, recently told a vernacular newspaper that he would seek the consent of farmers before acquiring land and that he would go only for barren land for PPP projects. The land ordinance opens up even multicrop land for acquisition.
So why is a BJP Chief Minister subtly suggesting he would not use the provision of acquisition from farmers without their consent as contained in the land ordinance? Khattar is an old Sangh Parivar hand. Is he answering to the call of the Sangh leadership? An important leader of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch told this writer there is nothing wrong in doing a social impact assessment when even the World Bank insists on such assessment before giving a project loan. Social Impact Assesment is a routine practice and should not be junked simply because it takes time. Sometimes seeking undue hurry and speed in development can also become the cause for the notion of development itself getting discredited. Modi must guard against this possibility.
Author is Executive Editor at Amar Ujala Publications
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