The passing of the Land Acquisition Bill in the coming Lok Sabha session will lead to more Singurs and Nandigrams, predicted activist Medha Patkar in New Delhi on Wednesday.
Patkar was addressing a press conference on behalf of the National Alliance of People's Movement (NAPM), which is a coalition organisation that is working "to bring the struggle for a people-oriented development model to the centre stage of politics and public life."
Medha Patkar pointed out that NAPM had drafted a policy note in 2006 to amend the present Land Acquisition Act (1894) and presented it to Sonia Gandhi who, at that time, was heading the National Advisory Commission.
She assured NAPM that the bill to amend the Land Acquisition Act would be based on this policy note. But, in 2007, Lok Sabha passed the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, which was entirely different from the policy note approved by Sonia Gandhi.
NAPM is primarily demanding that the present Land Acquisition Bill (2007) be scrapped and a new bill based on the policy note be drafted.
NAPM also proposed that there should be a national debate involving Sonia Gandhi and the National Advisory Committee regarding the bill. Secondly, two reports of the standby committee have come through so the issue should go to a Joint Parliamentary Committee to be reviewed. And thirdly, there should be discussions about what to do about those people who have already been displaced as in - Narmada, SEZs and Maharashtra.
Gumman Singh of the Himalaya Niti Abhiyan related how after the construction of the Bhakra Nagal Dam, 40, 000 people were displaced, but they were never rehabilitated. Same is the case with the Pong Dam, where 18, 000 people were never resettled. "Places where less than 200 families have been displaced in hilly areas and 400 families in plain, the government has kept them outside the purview of rehabilitation citing that their numbers are too small," said Gumman Singh adding that there have been no rehabilitation in case of the hydro projects in Himachal Pradesh. "Himachal Pradesh is providing electricity to you but what about us?" he questioned.
In New Delhi, about 200 factories were shut down because of environmental concerns in the past. Now instead of acquiring more farmland to set up new factories, these can be set up where the closed down factories were, suggested Bhupender Singh Rawat one of the NAPM speakers at the conference. Rajendra Ravi, another activist, pointed out that 56, 000 people were displaced in name of cleaning the Yamuna but in fact, the land was given over to build the Akshardham Temple. And while Delhi Metro proclaims to be a role model of development it actually has contributed a great deal to Yamuna's pollution. "On one hand there's no land for the city poor, on the other, lands of factories that have closed down are turning into shopping malls," he said.
Ashok Chaudhry, another speaker, questioned the very legitimacy of the government usurping land from people. "The government claims of minimum displacement and maximum rehabilitation is a farce," he said adding, "The government has no right to take land from anyone."
Can we really believe in rehabilitation given the government's track record of the past 60 years, Medha Patkar asked, when farmers and forest dwellers are not even mentioned in the compensation schemes in the bill.
"The bill, in terms of rehabilitation, says that the poor will only [get land] if government has [any to give]. This is atrocious when corporations can get land anywhere," said Medha Patkar. Both the Land Acquisition Bill and Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill were passed without any hindrance in the Lok Sabha in 2007. It was only in the Rajya Sabha that they were rejected. This monsoon session, activists fear that the bill will be passed in both Houses of Parliament. "We feel that the Bill[s] [are] getting passed because the government is under pressure from the corporations," Patkar said.
NAPM believes that government should look into pre-displacement rehabilitation and it should make sure that the acquired land is truly being used for public purpose and not something like a foreign university as in case of Vedanta University, Orissa. Patkar also said, "If it is for truly public purpose like a school or a hospital then we do not oppose it."