The new land acquisition bill has missed a historic opportunity to address the illegalities and excesses committed by the colonial law it replaces.
It fails to replace the state’s eminent domain with the people’s domain, fails to make development planning in the country democratic, fails to offer relief to the 10 crore people whose way of life has been sacrificed at the altar of development and nation-building. It fails to protect the land rights of farmers and promote agriculture.
A comprehensive bill incorporating resettlement and rehabilitation along with provisions for conducting social impact assessments is welcome, but its selective application — its leaving irrigation projects out of its purview — means it will leave out a wide section of the population.
Since Independence, 40% of displacement has occurred due to big dams.
The amendment that excluded irrigation projects was brought in at the behest of the government of Madhya Pradesh, where the longest anti-dam movement in the country, the Narmada Bachao Andolan, has been fighting 30 big dams and a large number of medium and small dams, since the 1980s.
Together, these dams affect nearly 5 million people across three states and not in a single case has resettlement and rehabilitation been fair or effective.
The new bill also legitimises the acquisition of land for private corporations in the name of public purpose and promotes cash-based compensation over livelihood-based rehabilitation, which would arrest the impoverishment of millions of nature-based communities.
Setting up a national resettlement and rehabilitation commission to deal with past cases would have been a step towards addressing the suffering of those who have lost their land for SAIL plants, hydro-electric projects and dams.
With a growing population and the National Food Security Bill, there is a need to preserve agrarian land for food production. The land acquisition bill could affect the food security of the nation.
Lastly, the attempt to repeal the 1894 Act was initiated in the context of the killings and conflict over land acquisition in Nandigram and Singur, but today the whole debate is centred on growth and industrialisation.
For those relegated to the fringes of this debate, the only hope is that resistance and sustained challenges to the forced acquisition of land and natural resources for profit, in the name of development, will force political parties to amend the bill sooner rather than later.
(Madhuresh Kumar is national organiser of NGO National Alliance of People's Movements)