Farmers agitating against the acquisition of land in Uttar Pradesh

NEW DELHI: The government has been pushed into the dock by the farmers of India. And an angry and hostile Opposition is going to make sure that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have to choose between the farmers and the corporates before this budget session of Parliament is over.

Despite putting a brave face on the Land Acquisition Ordinance the government is now heavily on the back foot, with Anna Hazare starting a campaign at Jantar Mantar against the Ordinance, Aam Aadmi Party’s Yogendra Yadav taking out a march through Haryana handing out ‘salt’ to BJP legislators to remind them of their promises, and the entire Opposition united to take the government to task on this issue in Parliament.

Efforts by the Modi government to persuade the Congress party to support it on this issue have failed, with the party preparing the Ordinance “tooth and nail” along with the other Opposition parties in Parliament.

Significantly, the BJP lost the rural seats that it had won in both the last Assembly and Lok Sabha elections to AAP just on the basis of the ‘anti farmer’ Ordinance. The farmer, visibly agitated, is responding voluntarily to calls for mobilisation now to defeat the government on what is perceived as its design to “rob us of our land.

So far the government has not blinked and seems to be preparing to face the opposition in Parliament. PM Modi spoke of the need to debate and dialogue peacefully on issues. President Pranab Mukherjee in his address to the joint session of Parliament was more specific when he said, “My government attaches paramount importance to safeguard the interest of farmers and families affected by land acquisition. The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act has been suitably refined to minimise certain procedural difficulties in acquisition of land inevitably required for critical public projects of infrastructure and for creation of basic amenities like rural housing, schools and hospitals, particularly in remote areas.”

The Land acquisition Ordinance that is fast becoming an emotive issue across the country, will dominate this budget session of Parliament even as the issue is taken up by the regional parties in the states. The Janata Dal(U) plans to convert this into a campaign in Bihar, more so as the state will be going in for the Assembly elections later this year. Sources said that taking a leaf out of the AAP book, the JD(U) under Nitish Kumar would look at uniting the farmers over the government’s highly discriminatory Ordinance, with the BJP state units exerting pressure on the centre now to correct the imbalance.

Changes were introduced in the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 by the Modi government, not in favour of the farmers but for the corporate world that had been opposing the Act as being “anti investment” and “anti growth.” The Act was amended through the Ordinance by the Modi government with an extremely interesting paper by Persis Ginwala and Sagar Rabri, researchers in Gujarat, pointing out how the amendments “ are regressive and anti-people, anti-farmer and anti-agriculture.”

The Ordinance has reworked the Act to make it more friendly towards the corporates through a slew of amendments. Earlier the government’s power to acquire land was restricted to companies registered under the Companies Act. And as the above paper points out, the amendment here “removes this restriction and empowers the government to acquire it for anyone or anything as per its will, choice or discretion.” This does not exclude individuals. The Ordinance is heavily weighed in favour of the corporates and as the researchers suggest and the Opposition leader agree, “ the amendments have at the stroke of a pen, decimated the achievements of decades of hard struggle by adivasis, farmers, peoples movements against injustice in land acquisition.” All the amendments are for the corporate lobbies, with the 18 industrial corridors proposed all over the country being “exempted from the provisions of this Act.”

The corporate, both national and international, have been pressuring the government to ease the laws related to the acquisition of land. This has been cited as one of the biggest obstructions to corporate investment in India, in terms of infrastructure development and industry. The acquisition of land under the UPA government had stirred resentment and anger in the rural parts of the country in particular with the new Act trying to reconcile the opposing interests into one whole. The Act was presented by the UPA as pro-farmer, a claim that was being questioned by the opposition parties at the time, when the Modi government came to power and rushed into a decisively pro-corporate Ordinance.

Farmers protests have been breaking out all over the country, mostly against the acquisition of land and the non-payment of compensation for several years now. Agitated farmers have marched to Delhi or to state capitals to lodge their protest, but their voices were largely ignored until now when the Ordinance has finally tipped the scale almost entirely in favour of the corporates.