India drafts land rights bill to protect farmers | Connect Asia

India drafts land rights bill to protect farmers

India drafts land rights bill to protect farmers

Updated 18 January 2012, 16:00 AEDT

Taking note of the protest by farmers in several parts of India over inadequate compensation for their land, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government has drafted an ambitious 'pro-farmer policy' to stop their exploitation.

In recent months, various state governments have forcibly acquired land from peasants and tribal groups and handed it over to real estate corporations, mining companies and industry which have led to violent clashes.

The proposed law, which will be introduced in Parliament, is expected to address issues concerning rehabilitation of farmers after acquisition of their land.

Presenter: Murali Krishnan

Jayant Chaudhary, Member of Parliament from Mathura UP; Kamal Mitra Chenoy, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University; Shivani Chaudhary, Associate Director, Housing and Land Rights Network; Prem Lal, farmer from UP and Jaimala, mother of protester hurt in police firing in Uttar Pradesh

SFX: heavy traffic movement, trucks

KRISHNAN: Tension continues to simmer in the populous state of Uttar Pradesh following protests by thousands of farmers against alleged forced acquisition of land. Farmers in Greater Noida, about 60 kms from the national capital, have threatened to stall building projects in the area after their lands were acquired or purchased directly by the authorities.

This region is dominating news due to the number of land acquisition deals being struck down by both the High Court and the Supreme Court. The courts recently ruled that the authorities showed undue haste in taking over land, ostensibly to set up industries. However, the land was sold to private builders at much higher rates.

Now farmers are demanding that the Greater Noida Authority return five percent land from its acquired land pool.

Prem Lal, a farmer is happy with the court's ruling.

LAL: (Voice to translation)We have always lived with respect. Then the authorities tried to seize our land forcibly and gave us a pittance in compensation. We are thankful to the courts that they understood our plight".

KRISHNAN: But unlike Prem Lal who is hopeful of a compensation package, 55-year-old Jaimala who lives in Bhatta-Parsaul, some distance away, is angry and still lives in fear.

SFX: Sounds of gunfire...protests

KRISHNAN: Two months back these two Greater Noida villages were at the epicentre of violent clashes between villagers protesting acquisition of their land and the police, which left - officially - four dead.

The government bought the farmers' land to build an eight-lane highway and business zone between Delhi and Agra - an important industrial centre that is also home to the Taj Mahal .

Jaimala's son was injured in the firing.

JAIMALA: Never, I will never give up my land.. If I have to fight I will do so. They have to remove me forcibly".

SFX: TV grab of protests of land acquisition

KRISHNAN: India's economic development is gradually turning into a virtual land war between poor farmers, who rely on agriculture as their sole source of earning, and investors who want to build industrial plants and residential projects.

From Singur in West Bengal to the farmlands in Orissa and Greater Noida in the outskirts of Delhi, the battle for land, seems to be India's new political flashpoint.

Jayant Chaudhary, Member of Parliament from Uttar Pradesh explains the problem in his state.

CHAUDHARY: Really the problem with Uttar Pradesh is the scale. It is a national issue, every state has its own peculiarities. And today somebody is trying to paint this as an industry versus agriculture or industry versus village kind of agenda. Whereas really even the needs of industry do not mean that you acquire land in such massive scale.

KRISHNAN: Government statistics indicate that 65 per cent of people in India are dependent on land. In vast swathes of the rural hinterland, it is the basis for social relations.

Kamal Mitra Chenoy from Jawaharlal Nehru University has studied the peasant movement closely.

CHENOY: In India unfortunately we have not been able to frame a land acquisition act since the colonial period. Much has been said that we don't have a Lok Pal Bill. But we don't even have a land acquisition Act which is in some ways more important for the poor and the rapidly becoming landless!

SFX: Protest sounds

KRISHNAN: Nowhere is the uprooting of communities better illustrated than in Delhi. Thousands of families were displaced from the capital and little or no compensation given to them when the Commonwealth Games were held in October last year.

Shivani Chaudhary from the Housing and Land Rights Network has documented their suffering.

CHAUDHARY: According to our study only 10 per cent of people have received rehabilitation where as 90 per cent per cent have been left to fend for themselves. And most of them are homeless or living in make-shift conditions. Most of them have lost their jobs and these are people who contribute to the city's economy, they are the ones who subsidise our services. But we never look at them as equal citizens of the city.

KRISHNAN: The big question is whether a farmer-friendly land acquisition bill will be the right solution.

Murali Krishnan for Connect Asia

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