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Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill and acquisitions in Africa

Written By Krishna on Friday, December 09, 2011 | 9:12 AM

To

Smt. Sumitra Mahajan

Chairperson

Parliamentary Standing Committees on Rural Development

Parliament of India

New Delhi

Through Shri Raju Srivastava, Deputy Secretary, Parliamentary Standing Committees on Rural Development

Subject- Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill and acquisitions in Africa

Madam,

This is to submit that the Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill 2011 argues for a perfect land market, unrestrained urbanisation and industrialization. In effect, it will lead to increased control of agricultural land in the hands of companies of all ilk and compromise the food security of the present and future generations.

I submit that the Bill does not disclose how Government of India is involved in land acquisition in countries of Africa and how it will deal with it.

I submit that the Parliamentary Committee must ask for the status of the total land acquired and the total number of internally displaced persons till the introduction of the Bill in Parliament. Without such a paper and data, the Union Rural Development Ministry's rush to get the Bill passed is an act in haste which generations to come will repent and it will be considered a monumental failure of the Parliament if it does not undertake rigorous outreach before arriving at a research based legislation.

I submit that the Union Rural Development Minister in his role as Secretary, Economic Affairs, Indian National Congress and even now represents "a generation that was created by public investment". In 2001 Shri Jairam Ramesh told a US journalist that "in 1715 they (India) accounted for 25 percent of world industrial output, so it's always been an industrial nation in that sense of the term."

I submit that India’s share of 25 % in the world’s industrial output did not require land acquisition.

I submit that Union Minister for Rural Development introduced the Bill 2011 in the Lok Sabha within six days of the end of the public comment period on the Bill that is to replace a 116 year old colonial law on September 7, 2011. Such short time span appears to be insufficient to incorporate the comments of the concerned citizens of India.

It sounds strange that rural development ministry is working for urban development as if latter is unquestionably the pre-condition for the well being of rural people and their ecosystem. May ask as to what is the role of urban development ministry if what rural development ministry is doing is indeed its mandate?

I submit that caught in the time warp and frozen with the contested develop-mentality, corporate fund driven political parties and NGOs are out to decisively put the State and the natural resources on sale unmindful of its cognitive and ecological cost and intergenerational inequity that it promotes forever. The ruling parties in particular are hand in glove in this regard. These anti-citizen entities are acting as if present and future citizens, gram sabhas, panchayats and zilla parishads do not matter. Their relatively muted responses to enactment of Special Economic Zone Act, 2005 and its implementation is a case in point.

I submit that the Bill should provide safeguards against severe food shortages as has happened in the continent of Africa as it has been targeted for land acquisition by foreign countries. This trend started in the 1990s when countries such as Sudan allowed rich Gulf countries to buy agricultural land in the areas irrigated by the bountiful waters of the White and Blue Nile.

I submit that the committee may cognizance of the rampant land grab underway in Africa. It is not getting adequate attention due to Paid News phenomena. According to Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute, some 15-20 million hectares of land in poor countries have either been sold or are under negotiations for sale to foreign buyers since 2006. Besides the oil-rich Gulf emirates, China, South Korea and India have also made large investments in land in many African countries. The land has been taken either on the basis of outright purchases or on 99-year leases. The countries where most of the land deals are taking place are Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Madagascar, Mozambique, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania.

The committee must seek a status report from Government of India with regard to these land acquisitions and ask as to how the Bill will address these cases.

I submit that Indian companies have invested around $3 billion in Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Senegal and Madagascar to produce a wide variety of food crops and also crops that would be used to produce biofuel. It is learnt that Government of India is actively encouraging investments in land acquisition programmes by providing cheap lines of credit to the governments of Ethiopia, Senegal, Kenya, Madagascar and Mozambique. Under a duty-free tariff preference scheme, Ethiopian farm produce can enter the Indian market on lower tariffs. The Bill’s flaw lies in not dealing with the issue.

It is claimed that unlike most parts of the world, plenty of arable land in still available in scarcely populated areas of the African continent. Subsistence farmers who inhabit these areas have no political clout. The countries that acquire the land also get control of the key resource, water.

I submit that the Parliamentary Committee should ensure that India is never accused of practicing acts of colonialism having fought against it for several decades. When the fight among communities and countries over water will exacerbate in near future the sovereignty of the African states will be compromised. Given the fact that corporations are becoming bigger than governments with each passing day, our own sovereignty may also get compromised.

I submit that Indian government provided a soft loan of $640 million to Ethiopia for the next five years to encourage sugar production. This is the biggest credit line New Delhi has extended to any country. It has facilitated investment by about 80 Indian companies in agricultural land in Africa. The committee should examine the ramification of these initiatives for India’s present and future.

I submit that the Committee should examine the veracity of UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) description of these investments as “land grabbing”. A paper titled “Land grab or development opportunity” by FAO criticised some aspects of the land deals being negotiated in Africa.

I wish to inform that an Indian company, Karuturi Global Limited, acquired 8,50,000 acres (3,40,000 hectares) of land for cultivation in Ethiopia in 2009. This Bangalore-based company has also brought land in neighbouring Kenya. The company has claimed that it now owns “one of the largest agricultural land banks” in the world. The Committee may examine its short-term and long-term impact and why it should not be covered the Bill.

I submit that committee should take note of the voice of the opposition parties in Ethiopia which have been protesting against their government’s land policies and factor in public opinion of countries of African continent. There has been news report of land deals with India being opposed and angry letters sent to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

I submit that late Libyan leader Shri Muammar Gaddafi had described the purchase of African farmland by food-importing countries as a kind of “new feudalism” and warned that the practice could spread to other parts of the world. “Small farmers are being bereft of their own land, thanks to new feudal powers coming from outside of Africa and buying land very cheaply,” he said. The head of the FAO, Shri Jacques Diouf, said that the sharp rise in land deals in Africa could create a new form of “neocolonialism”, with poor countries producing food for the richer ones at the expense of their own citizens. The late Libyan leader spoke at a “hunger summit” organised by the FAO in Rome in 2009, our Parliamentary Committee may examine the veracity of such claims before a new regime take over in Libya after elections in seven months’ time under the interim government led by Shri Abdurrahim El Keib, Libyan Prime Minister. The allegations of land grab in African countries by companies of all shades merits rigorous probe to comprehend whether or not the LARR Bill facilitates the same or combats such trends.

In view of these concerns, the committee should provide for such legal mechanisms in place to protect the rights of the present and future generations. It may consider the goings on with regard to land acquisition in the 33 states that form the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States which met in Venezuela during December 2-3, 2011 after some two hundred years of Latin America’s independence. It would be unbecoming of India’s stature to be involved in depriving nations of their independence the way colonial power did.

I submit that the Special Economic Zones and land acquisition by companies are about generating financial wealth with naked political patronage at the cost of natural and human wealth. The Land Acquisition Act, 1894 has been useful for it. It is indeed "painfully evident that the basic law has become archaic". It used to be said that company is an artifact of law, it now appears that law such as this is an artifact of companies. Every act of privatisation of the government through legislations like these is quite painful too.

If that is not the case why should State use its sovereign power to acquire land for companies either partially or fully in the name of industrial and urban development or legislate to facilitate the same? If 'development' wasn't a notorious and negative word why has a benign and positive word 'sustainable' pre-fixed to it unmindful of this the bill cites developmental imperatives with the assumption of its innocence.

I submit that the argument of Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) that acquisition of land for industrial and urban development is a necessity -- is driven by corporate funding of ruling and opposition parties since 2003 when the ban on company donations was lifted.

I submit that Clause 59 of the Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011 deals with the provision of 'penalty for obstructing acquisition of land' seems to be about punishing the protesters and dissenters.

It reads: "Whoever willfully obstructs any person in doing any of the acts authorised by section 9 or section 15, or willfully fills up, destroys, damages or displaces any trench or mark made under section 15, shall, on conviction before a magistrate, be liable to imprisonment for any term not exceeding one month, or to fine not exceeding five hundred rupees, or to both." Ramesh argues that this is required because "Land markets in India are imperfect." The provision of penalty must be removed.

I submit that a related legislation Land Titling Bill, 2011 should have been brought in along with the Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Bill. Section 10 and 36 of the Land Titling Bill state that all land titled will be linked Unique Identity Number (UID)/Aadhaar Number. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance has disapproved of the National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010 that delegitimizes the UID/Aadhaar Number project. The Parliamentary Committee may like consider these aspects.

I submit that these proposed legislations with regard to land seem to be aimed at creating property based democracy at the behest of transnational financial institutions. The committee, state governments and state's legislative bodies may consider exchanging notes to unearth the legislative web being woven before it is too late.

In the backdrop of such unanswered questions, the LARR Bill ought to deal with the grievance accumulated since 1894. Clause 69 of the Bill deals with the 'Return of Unutilised Land'. It reads: "(1) The land acquired under this Act shall not be transferred to any other purpose except for a public purpose, and after obtaining the prior approval of the appropriate government, and any change in purpose made in violation of this provision shall be void and shall render such land and structures attached to it liable to be reverted to the land owner. (2) When any land or part thereof, acquired under this act remains unutilised for a period of five years from the date of taking over the possession, the same shall return to the land owner by reversion; (3) The appropriate government shall return the unutilised land or part thereof, as the case may be, to the original owner of the land from whom it was acquired subject to the refund of one fourth of the amount of compensation paid to him along with the interest on such amount at such rate, as may be specified by the appropriate government, from the date of payment of compensation to him till the refund of such amount; and (4) The person to whom the land is returned being the owner of the land shall be entitled to all such title and rights in relation to such land from which he has been divested on the acquisition of such land."

I submit that a noted jurist, Dr Usha Ramanathan asks, "What happens when they (the displaced) are unable to buy it back" when the unutilised land is returned. This section permits the transfer of land for another public purpose. This particular clause is not acceptable and has to be removed from the draft bill. Unmindful of widespread concern in the academia and among citizens, the bill has been approved in a tearing hurry by the Union Cabinet which gives rise to valid questions about player behind the curtain in the backdrop of declaration of assets by billionaire ministers.

I submit that Schedule I of the bill deals with "compensation for land owners", Schedule II deals with the "list of rehabilitation and resettlement entitlements for all the affected families (both land owners and the families whose livelihood is primarily dependent on land acquired) in addition to those provided in Schedule I and Schedule III deal with "provision of infrastructural amenities" for resettlement of populations "to minimise the trauma involved in displacement."

Referring to schedule II, Shri Ramaswamy R Iyer, former secretary, union water resources aptly concludes that "The principle of 'land for land' has been abandoned" because it is applied for irrigation projects alone that too with a provision that is inferior to the ones made for the displaced in the Sardar Sarovar Project. The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs appears to be under undue influence from the funders of ruling political parties both at the centre and the states to exclude projects for power, mining, flood management, SEZ, urban development and several other 'multi-purpose' projects that cause displacement. So far neither the ministry nor the CCEA has responded to it.

The Bill fails to address the question of transfer of agricultural land to non-agricultural use and the implications for food security although it does refer to multi-cropped irrigated land but it is hardly sufficient. It seems to be pursuing the path of regressive Bihar Agriculture Land (Conversion for Non Agriculture Purposes) Act, 2010 which is facing bitter opposition especially in cases where widely acknowledged and awarded fertile lands are being acquired for hazardous asbestos factories amidst paid news journalism and studied silence of opposition parties in the state.

I submit that if this is the fate of a state government whose head keeps referring to Shri Ram Manohar Lohia's four tier governance, it is understandable why most of the socialist experiments become an exercise in sophistry. Instead of ensuring that private purchases of agricultural land be subject of state regulation from the point of view of land-use, water-use, soil health and food security, such legislations are indulging in a myopic exercise of according priority to creation of financial wealth at any non-financial cost and risks. The committee must get a status report on land acquisitions in the Kosi basin given the fact that India has to take the concerns of Nepal as well for geo-strategic and environmental reasons.

I submit that land acquisition for embankments on the India-Nepal border has created the worst environmental crisis of South Asia which gets very little sensitive attention of the legislative bodies. The committee’s recommendation to deal with unprecedented drainage congestion due misplaced land acquisition can show a sane direction which can lead to restoration of this permanently inundated or waterlogged fertile Indo-Gangetic plains.

I submit that Section 2 of the LARR Bill deal with the definition of the expression "public purpose" includes- (i) the provision of land for strategic purposes relating to naval, military, air force and armed forces of the Union or any work vital to national security or defence of India or state police, safety of the people; (ii) the provision of land for infrastructure, industrialisation and urbanisation projects of the appropriate government, where the benefits largely accrue to the general public; (iii) the provision of village or urban sites, acquisition of land for the project affected people, planned development or improvement of village sites, provision of land for residential purpose to the poor, government administered educational and health schemes, (iv) the provision of land for any other purpose useful to the general public, including land for companies, for which at least 80 per cent of the project affected people have given their consent through a prior informed process; provided that where a private company after having purchased part of the land needed for a project, for public purpose, seeks the intervention of the appropriate government to acquire the balance of the land it shall be bound by rehabilitation and resettlement provisions of this Act for the land already acquired through private negotiations and it shall be bound by all provisions of this Act for the balance area sought to be acquired. (v) the provision of land for residential purposes to the poor or landless or to persons residing in areas affected by natural calamities, or to persons displaced or affected by reason of the implementation of any scheme undertaken by government, any local authority or a corporation owned or controlled by the State". I submit that the definition of "public purpose" or common good to destroys "the distinction between private use and public use".

I submit “the eminent domain power in India is not, and in any event should not be, so wide" wherein an inverted Robin Hood is created which takes from the poor to give to the rich.

I submit that the draconian black law of 1894 which is proposed to be replaced in the backdrop of massive bitter opposition to Special Economic Zones and environmentally damaging projects in Jaitapur, Haripur, Ghaziabad, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu,Karnataka, Bihar and Goa where lessons have not been learnt from the bloodshed and violence in Nandigram and Singur.

I submit that women heads of state are more sensitive to the plight of future generations. Five key women political leaders namely- Ms Micheline Calmy-Rey, President of Switzerland, Dr Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, Ms Julia Gillard, Australian Prime Minister, Ms Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal, Dr. J. Jayalalitha, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu- who have abandoned the nuclear energy path in the face of inevitable and unpredictable disasters like Cheronbyl and Fukushima. In such a backdrop, the proposal to amend the Atomic Energy Act, 1962 for land acquisition is uncalled for.

I submit that the Committee should pay heed to the mass protests against nuclear power projects in Jaitapur (Maharashtra), Kovvada (Andhra Pradesh), Mithi Virdi (Gujarat), Gorakhpur (Haryana), Chutka (Madhya Pradesh), Jaitapur (Maharashtra) and Koodankulam (Tamil Nadu). The villages in the vicinity nuclear power related mines in Gogi, Nalgonga and Jharkhand merit a visit by the committee to ascertain whether such projects have contributed to rural development in any way. There should be moratorium on acquisition of land for nuclear power and uranium mining projects. It is revealing that Australia which has banned nuclear power is trying to sale uranium to India as if human biology of Indians is any different.

I submit that unlike in US, the Supreme Court of India has observed, "The Act, which was enacted more than 116 years ago for facilitating the acquisition of land. However, in the recent years, the country has witnessed a new phenomena. Large tracts of land have been acquired in rural parts of the country in the name of development and transferred to private entrepreneurs, who have utilised the same for construction of multi-storied complexes, commercial centers and for setting up industrial units. Similarly, large scale acquisitions have been made on behalf of the companies by invoking the provisions contained in Part VII of the Act. The resultant effect of these acquisitions is that the land owners, who were doing agricultural operations and other ancillary activities in rural areas, have been deprived of the only source of their livelihood. Majority of them do not have any idea about their constitutional and legal rights, which can be enforced by availing the constitutional remedies under Articles 32 and 226 of the Constitution."

If the Bills are not sensitive to these observations in a context of corporate funding to political parties even if passed by the Parliament, they can be struck down by the apex court as contrary to the Preamble of our Constitution.

I submit that it is admitted that there is "asymmetry of power (and information) between those wanting to acquire the land and those whose lands are being acquired" but the role of futures markets in land within India and the land being acquired in African countries does not find any mention. Also "asymmetry of power and information" is acknowledged only to be ignored as if it's a merely an exercise in lip-service. The bill ignores how acquisition of land affects acquisition of water as well. The ministry has failed to provide a white paper on the impact of 1894 Act since its enactment before independence and after independence. A compensation and rehabilitation regime is needed with "reference not to the nature of the project but to the nature of the impact."

I submit that Clause 161 of Companies Bill 2009 (which is listed for introduction as Companies Bill 2011) that corresponds to section 293A of the Companies Act, 1956 provides the manner and limits up to which a company shall be able to contribute the amount to any political party or to any person for a political purpose. May I ask whether Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill 2011 is inspired by such ‘legal’ contribution to the ruling parties? This merits consideration in view of the recommendations of the Shri Indrajit Gupta Committee on State funding of elections, which has been endorsed by both the NDA Government and the UPA Government but it is yet to be implemented.

I submit that the Union Rural Development Ministry has not bothered to send this Bill to all the sarpanchs and mukhiyas of the country in their language to ascertain its implications and provide suggestions. The passage of the Bill in its current shape must be deferred till this is done. The committee may check with Rural Development Ministry, there is a precedent in this regard, Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu, as Union Rural Development Minister had written such letters to sarpanchs. I had seen one such letter in a panchayat at a gram sabha meeting of Mendha Lekha, Dhanora tehsil in Gadchiroli district in July-August 2001.

It would indeed be a sad commentary on the ministry and the standing committee if it fails to genuinely reach out to villages before finalising the Bill. The Bill must factor in the provisions of Article 243 (G) of the Indian Constitution and Panchayat Extension to the Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act, 1996. It must devise ways to ensure that ruling parties which appear to be under the influence of companies as is evident from published Radia tapes desist from "forced industrialisation" and forced urbanization at the cost of agricultural land.

In conclusion, I humbly submit that this step is required to deal with an uncertain future being manufactured by real estate, food and water companies to safeguard agricultural land from being grabbed by powerful national and transnational companies that can undermine parliament, state assemblies, gram sabhas, panchayats, zilla parishads and the government for good by depriving us of our food sovereignty. If our legislature can legislate on land use, water use, land acquisition, rehabilitation, resettlement and land titling with the memory of country's past share in world trade, it will be acting to restore the sovereignty of our Parliament and ensure that companies of all ilk remain subservient to its legislative will.

I will be happy to share reference documents for the submissions made in the comments above.

Thanking You

Yours faithfully

Gopal Krishna

Convener

ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)

New Delhi

Mb: 9818089660

E-mail: krishna1715@gmail.com

Web: toxicswatch.blogspot.com

Cc

Hon’ble Members of the Parliamentary Standing Committees on Rural Development

1 Smt. Sumitra Mahajan,

2 Shri Sai Prathap Annayyagari,

3 Shri Gajanan Dharmshi Babar,

4 Dr. (Smt.) Ratna De(Nag),

5 Shri Sandeep Dikshit,

6 Shri Manikrao Hodlya Gavit,

7 Shri Maheshwar Hazari,

8 Shri Ramesh Vishwanath Katti,

9 Shri Suresh Kodikunnil,

10 Shri P. Kumar,

11 Shri Raghuvir Singh Meena,

12 Shri Rakesh Pandey,

13 Shri P.L. Punia,

14 Shri Anantha Venkatarami Reddy,

15 Shri Arjun Charan Sethi,

16 Smt. M. Vijaya Shanthi,

17 Shri Navjot Singh Sidhu,

18 Dr. Sanjay Sinh,

19 Smt. Supriya Sadanand Sule,

20 Shri Narendra Singh Tomar,

21 Shri A.K.S. Vijayan,

22 Shri Mani Shankar Aiyar,

23 Shri Husain Dalwai,

24 Sardar Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa,

25 Shri Ganga Charan,

26 Shri P. Rajeeve,

27 Dr. Ram Prakash,

28 Shri Mohan Singh,

29 Smt. Maya Singh,

30 Miss Anusuiya Uikey,

31 Dr.(Smt.) Kapila Vatsyayan

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