Aam Janta challenge ‘Aam Aadmi’ Sarkar on Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill and Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill
Jantar Mantar, New Delhi: The gathering of hundreds of farmers, small agriculturalists, and farm workers, adivasis, fish workers, labourers and women in the National Capital echoed the voice and anguish of thousands of displaced people, protesting against the UPA Government’s efforts to hurriedly pass the current version of Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill and Rehabilitation and Resettlement (R&R) Bill and demanding just and fair development.
Organised by Sangharsh, a group of about 150 social and people’s movements and groups, the National Convention against Land Acquisition, Development and Displacement, 18th – 20th November 2009, involved people from the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Orissa and Tamil Nadu. They were also joined by prominent leaders of peoples’ movements like Medha Patkar from Narmada Bachao Andolan, Ashok Choudhury (National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers, NFFPFW), Gautam Bandopadhyay from Nadi Ghati Morcha (Chhattisgarh), Sandhya from Adivasi Mahila Mahasangh (Orissa), Rupam Chowdhary from Paschim Bangla Buddhi Jibi Manch (West Bengal), Amita from Singur Krushi Zameen Bachao Samiti, Sister Celia from Domestic Workers Union and NAPM, Karnataka, Kavita Krishnan from CPI (ML-Liberation) and Bhupinder Singh Rawat from Jan Sangharsh Vahini, among other supporters from the various associated organizations and solidarity groups within Delhi.
Movement leaders reminded the Central Government that they enjoyed the position of political authority only because of the peoples’ mandate. They demanded that the mandate of the people is respected and such anti-people, anti-poor legislations not be passed or that power would be wrenched away from them, like on previous occasions. The aam admi of India was not to be taken lightly and believed to be ignorant.
On 18th November, the leadership from movements also met with Dr. C. P. Joshi, Minister of Rural Development. Despite the fact that the Ministry’s own Parliamentary Standing Committee Report is extremely critical of the two bills, the Minister said that the bills had been approved by the Cabinet, while it is public knowledge that this too was opposed by many people’s movements, joined in by Trinamool Congress.
Today afternoon, the delegation also met with Mamata Banerjee, Minster of Railways and Jairam Ramesh Minister of Environment and Forests, Muku; Wasnik, Social Justice Minister and submitted and Memorandum in the office of Shishir Adhikary, Minister of State for Rural Development. The purpose of the visit was to share the critiques of social groups and the Parliamentary Standing Committee Report of the Ministry of Rural Development and demand that a national level consultation be organised the with peoples’ groups to arrive at a comprehensive and just and Land Acquisition and Resettlement Policy. Jairam Rameshji also assured that the PCPIR Project with dozens of chemical SEZ s would not be spared the scrutiny of the environmental law of the country and people’s livelihood.
At a large gathering of hundreds of students and faculty yesterday night at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, the outpourings and logic-based assertions of the farmers, urban and rural poor, adivasis and others made the students clap umpteen number of times.
Several leaders representing mass movements from across the country spoke eloquently to the gathered protesters, who are either facing unjust displacement or have already been removed from their homes with shoddy rehabilitation. “We know our struggle is long”, said Ashok Choudhury of the National Forum for Forest People and Forest Workers, “The struggle has been fought for hundreds of years, and will be fought for a hundred more. However, if the government thinks that we will weaken in our resolve, then it is sorely mistaken. The more they oppress and intimidate us, the tighter will be our unity and the stronger our fight for our rights”. Abani Roy, Rajya Sabha MP and a long supporter of the basic rights of people asserted that “The government had sold out and so had all its departments. Our tolerance of their exploitation has come to an end. If they continue throwing us out of our land with violence, then we will eventually have to respond with the same”.
Sandeep Dixit, MP from New Delhi, Tarun Modul, MP from West Bengal also addressed the dharna to give their support and solidarity to the cause of social justice and just rehabilitation. Sandeep Dixit, apart from opposing the anti-poor and anti-farmer approach of certain legislation aslso expressed his disgruntlement with the SEZ Act, which he said was inimical to the survival of the poor. Rich corporations who set up their factories in these SEZ areas were given a red carpet treatment – subsidised land, electricity etc while the poor were expected to only just live but also survive off the meagre compensation that they received.
The LAA and R&R Bill as proposed are antithetical to the legislation that has been demanded for many years by peoples’ movements to address the destruction of life and livelihood faced by millions of people due to displacement for large projects – public and private. The very definition of “public purpose”, as used as a justification to uproot people, is faulty as it currently includes three kinds of projects: (i) Projects that are of strategic defence purposes; (ii) Infrastructure projects – including even mining; and (iii) Projects for ‘any other purpose useful to the general public’ which is to be carried out by a “person”, essentially referring to private corporations, companies or private individuals. Most importantly the principle on which the colonial era Land Acquisition Act 1894 was based, the Principle of Eminent Domain, is an unfortunate legacy of exploitative colonization and thus the entire Act should be repealed and the process started anew with national and regional level consultations with peoples’ movements, experts and other stakeholders, such as those done by the National Advisory Committee to prepare its 2005 Draft.
Medha Patkar condemned the UPA government for its crass rejection of the recommendations of its own Parliamentary Standing Committee which include some of key demands from peoples’ movements too – including the repeal of the antiquated Land Acquisition Act 1894, introduction of comprehensive new legislation to the Parliament, rejection of the 70:30 clause which enables the government to acquire the final 30% of land for a private project which has already acquired 70%, rejection of the numerical benchmark for applicability of R&R provisions, where only displacement of more than 200 families (hilly areas) or 400 families (plains) triggers the benefits of comprehensive R&R.
On the issue of urban displacement, Medha Patkar also said that there is no comprehensive policy addressing tenurial rights of the urban poor, most of whom are in the unorganized sector and reside in slums, both authorized and unauthorized. In the proposed LAA and R&R Bills, there has been no thought given to urban displacement issues. The Parliamentary Standing Committee took cognizance of the fact that the Ministry of Urban Development was not even consulted while creating the bills. In the past, resettlement has followed traumatic and arbitrary demolition, and has been entirely inadequate as it disrupts the lives and livelihoods of vulnerable workers. There is an urgent need to review the LAA and R&R Act from the point of view of the urban poor and displaced.
Listing the five key principles for rehabilitation legislation, the movement representatives stated that “Options assessment, free and prior informed consent of affected communities, minimum displacement, resource for resource compensation and prior, comprehensive and just rehabilitation” are then only ways to avoid further civil conflict in the country.
“It is extremely cruel to the displaced masses across the country that they need to come to Delhi and demonstrate, even to be heard. But if that is what is required, thousands will march to Delhi and will make themselves heard.” concluded Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan and NAPM.
Tomorrow afternoon many intellectuals and eminent thinkers shall assemble at Gandhi Peace Foundation at 2 p.m.at a Public Meeting to express their views on the current paradigm of anti-poor development by the corporatized state and collectively urge the UPA Government to truly prioritize the interests and rights of the adivasis, farmers and other marginalized communities within the devlopment planning framework.
The struggle of the Andolan shall continue and shall not relent until the Development Planning Act is passed as per the demands of the people’s movements, making the Gram Sabhas and Area Sabhas as centres of democratic development planning.
Contact: Madhuresh Kumar (9818905316) & Rajendra Ravi (9868200316) Phones: 011-26680914/883