#India – Farmers boycott land acquisition hearings for Chhindwara SEZ, Madhya Pradesh

Author(s): Aparna Pallavi , Down to Earth
Date:Jun 14, 2013
Villagers refuse to part with land; object to individual hearings, land acquisition by dubious means

Farmers and landowners protesting against land aquisition at the PWD guest house in Saunsar (Photo: Mukesh Badge)Farmers and landowners protesting against land aquisition at the PWD guest house in Saunsar (Photo: Mukesh Badge)

Around 150 farmers from eight villages in the Saunsar tehsil of Chhindwara district in Madhya Pradesh gathered at the guest house of the public works department (PWD) on Thursday and staged a protest. They were aggrieved by the individual hearing process adopted for land acquisition for a proposed special economic zone (SEZ) in the area. June 13 marked the first of the many individual hearings scheduled with the district collector to hear objections of farmers to the SEZ, which the farmers boycotted.

The process of acquisition of land for a multi-purpose SEZ developed by Nagpur-based Chhindwara Plus Developers Limited has been going on in the Saunsar tehsil of Chhindwara district since 2007, say farmers. Ramesh Kumre, land acquisition officer and sub-divisional magistrate, Pandurna,  says around 1,800 hectare (ha) of land has already been acquired in the area by following procedures under Section 4 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.

Around 269 farmers and other land owners in the eight villages have refused to part with 430 ha of land which is still required for the SEZ, says farmer Bhaskar Tekade of Satnoor village. In April this year, a land acquisition notice was issued to the panchayats, following which representatives from the various villages went to district collector Mahesh Chowdhari to submit their objections. Chowdhari refused to accept it, says Shyamla Sanyal, owner of a small gun-powder factory in Satnoor. “On April 30, which was the last day for submitting objections, we had to take a bus-load of people from the villages and staged a demonstration before the objection was finally accepted,” she says.

Notices were issued to the villages, asking farmers to register their objections at individual hearings scheduled on different dates between June 19 and June 22. As late as the night of June 11, farmers from three villages were issued fresh notices, asking them to attend hearings on June 13 and 14. This last move, says Sanyal, “is totally unacceptable. When we asked the land acquisition officer the reason behind the change in dates, he said that he had other appointments on the previous dates. This is no way to hold hearings on such crucial issues.”

Legal procedures sidelined

At the protest, farmers protested against individual hearings, accusing the administration of trying to divide the community. “It is illegal to call people for hearings on different days,” says advocate Aradhana Bhargava of the people’s organisation Kisan Sangharsh Samiti who is providing legal support to the agitation, “The administration should have held a public hearing under the proper sections of the law.” She also says that land acquisition by government agencies is legal only in case of lands acquired for a public purpose. “Why is government aiding a private project proponent?” she asks. The notices also said that if farmers failed to turn up on the given date, the administration would take a suo-moto decision, which again is totally illegal, she says.

Farmers at the meeting submitted a memorandum to the land acquisition officer stating that they do not wish to part with their land and that the administration should not issue further land acquisition notices to the people. It was signed by 150 farmers and other land-owners, says Sanyal.

Land acquisition officer Ramesh Kumre confirmed that the hearing had been cancelled because farmers turned up in a group instead of individually.

Deceit and coercion

Farmers complain that no legal procedures were observed in the land acquisition process. “The land acquired earlier has been obtained through dubious means,” Tekade told Down To Earth. “Mostly poor and marginal farmers were targeted through touts, and were relieved of their land for as little as Rs 40,000 to Rs 3 lakh per ha. More than 50 per cent of the farmers whose lands were taken want their land to be restored to them.”

Dubious means were used to get the consent of panchayats, says Satnoor sarpanch Reemaji Dethe. “In February this year, the gram panchayat secretary got my signature on what he said was a routine document. Since I had joined just a month earlier, I did not know the procedures and signed where he asked me to sign. Later I found out that it was a document saying that the gram panchayat consented to the land acquisition,” says Dethe.

“Farmers and small industry owners have been issued threats by the project proponents. Goons are being used to quell protests,” says Sanyal.


#India – The Land Bill is tainted by a colonial hangover

Instead of focussing on the industry, the Centre should uphold the citizens’ rights
Madhuresh Kumar

Madhuresh Kumar

4-05-2013, Issue 18

Left in the lurch The revised Bill is still vague on rehabilitation and resettlementLeft in the lurch The revised Bill is still vague on rehabilitation and resettlement, Photo: AP

Hectic parleys with political parties have been ongoing in the past few months to reach a consensus on the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011, so that it gets passed in the current Parliament session. In principle, it is the Manmohan Singh government’s effort at addressing the problems in the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, which is not only outdated, but has promoted forcible land acquisition.

Land acquisition continues to take place without any resettlement and rehabilitation, drastically affecting people who lose their land and/or livelihood. However, given the direction of negotiations and changes in the Bill, it is clear that although it is framed by the ministry responsible for rural development, it is more concerned about the industry sentiment and urbanisation needs.

The National Alliance of People’s Movements feels that while the new Bill is an improvement over the 1894 Act, several key issues remain. Many of these were addressed by the Parliamentary Standing Committee, but remain neglected by the Centre. One important recommendation made by the Standing Committee was that the government should not be acquiring land for private players. But the Centre has refused this recommendation, saying that it is ideologically committed to private firms playing a larger role in the nation’s development. Under the 1894 Act, the government was not legally mandated to acquire land for private firms and public- private partnership (PPP) projects. This new Bill will legitimise that. This is our fundamental problem: why should the government act like a middleman for private companies?

Second, the 1894 Act works on the principle of eminent domain, which is the power of the State to seize private property without the owners’ consent. That framework has still not been changed in the new Bill. And when you look at the current framework of development, the government is handing over sectors like power, roadways, railways, etc, to private players. As the State tries to acquire more land for private companies, there will be more and more conflict. Farmers have nothing else to depend on, and even if they are resettled and rehabilitated in some way, that may not suffice for their future generations.

It is being said that to make any acquisition for private and PPP projects, consent of 80 percent and 70 percent of the land losers, respectively, will be sought. But why is there no provision of consent for the public purpose projects? Until 1984, the Land Acquisition Act was used primarily to forcibly acquire land for government projects, leaving people to fend for themselves in the absence of any resettlement and rehabilitation provisions. That legacy of forcible acquisition will continue even after this law comes into force. This will also mean an unequal frame of land acquisition for power plants to be set up by the public sector National Thermal Power Corporation and Reliance in the same area.

Third, there remains serious concern about food security. Land is a critically limited resource. If we don’t put a cap on the diversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes, this will create severe food and water shortages. The Standing Committee has said that the government should not acquire any agricultural land, whether irrigated or not. The government is saying that only multi-crop land will not be acquired, but we are saying that it is single-crop land that is most often held by marginalised farmers, who are most in need of protection for economic and food security reasons. There must be strict norms for preventing diversion of agricultural land to non-agricultural purposes, like the regulation of any diversion of forests for development projects. On the same lines, there must also be a provision for compensatory development of agricultural land whenever there is a diversion of agricultural land.

Fourth, the Standing Committee report said that more than 90 percent of land is acquired through Central and state laws other than the Land Acquisition Act, which have been listed in a separate schedule in the Bill. However, the provisions of the new Bill don’t apply to those. Why they have been left out is not clear and only three non-significant Acts have been brought under its ambit (By a notification, the Union government will bring all such relevant Central Acts under its ambit within a year). But, more importantly, there is an urgent need to uniformly streamline the process of land acquisition, and so, the process of acquisition, resettlement and rehabilitation must be the same in all cases.

Fifth, as per the Planning Commission numbers, India’s urban population is expected to go up from 377 million in 2011 to about 600 million by 2031. This implies an increase of more than 200 million in just 20 years. It also says that the duration of water supply in the cities is only between one to six hours; about 13 percent of the urban population defecate in the open; about 37 percent of households are connected by open drains and 18 percent are not connected at all. The number of urban poor has increased by about 34.4 percent between 1993-2004, residing mostly in slums and bastis. In Mumbai, 60 percent of the population lives in slums or slum-like conditions, but together they occupy only 10-12 percent of the total land area — often described as ‘encroached land’.

Even where the land deeds are disputed, or in some cases where the land is officially recognised by the government, their land rights are not accepted, their homes are demolished and they are evicted from their place of residence without any resettlement and rehabilitation. The new Bill is not going to provide any relief to them as it is enacted in a rural framework and so a separate legislation to address the urban displacement is necessary.

Lastly, while the government says that the new Bill has better rehabilitation and resettlement clauses, it does not provide those who lose land with sustainable livelihood options or land for land. The whole framework revolves around increased monetary compensation, though most of the marginalised communities need secure means of livelihood more than money. Adivasis and Dalits, who are the most vulnerable and are often cheated because of their ignorance and illiteracy, will be further impoverished and end up in penury within years of losing their livelihood and migrating to cities, putting the whole economy and urban infrastructure under severe strain.

The number of people who face loss of livelihood because of land acquisition is so huge that they cannot be accommodated within the industrial and services sectors. So, while we are forcibly pushing people out of agriculture, we are not creating adequate educational or technical alternatives for them. The State is acquiring land in the name of public purpose and industrial growth, but we need to rethink how we define ‘development’.

We have to acknowledge that India is a country of 1.2 billion people. The kind of development the government is promoting caters only to the top 20 percent of the population. The government is revising the 1894 Act after 120 years to further growth and development, which gives it a historic opportunity to change how acquisition takes place. We should not lose this chance to create a policy that helps make India’s citizens participants in the development planning of the nation.

The key issue of citizens taking part in planning development remains unaddressed. The 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments, which empowered local self-governance institutions in rural and urban areas, have not yet been fully implemented. Their power is being taken away by the creation of other authorities and governance structures that interfere in the exercise of local institutions’ authority, thereby violating the Constitutional rights of the people.

Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh takes pride in the fact that the new Bill is an attempt at balancing the needs of the country. Since the likes of Medha Patkar and the industry associations are both unhappy, it means he is doing something right.

However, lest he forget, the laws framed by governments are neither for Patkar nor for the industry bodies, but for the citizens and the values enshrined in the Constitution, which recognises the supremacy of the citizens, and professes ideals of growth with justice and equity and a respect for the fundamental rights of the citizens that the new Bill violates.





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