Monday, September 11, 2006

Farmer's Crisis

Will Dadri be a symbol of a new land right movement in India

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Dadari, a sleepy town in Ghaziabad district of Uttar-Pradesh has caught the imagination of the farmers of the nation when on July 8th, 2006, a team of political leaders including former prime minister Mr V.P.Singh and his political friends wanted to make an the spot visit to the area and organize farmers against the acquisition of land meant for the Gas Power plant being built by Mr Anil Ambani. Over two years have gone but there is no sight of a power plant. Just after V.P.Singh made a surprise visit to the village Bajhera Khurd that UP government decided to launch a full throated publicity drive including the
‘bhoomi-pujan’ ceremony of the ‘so-called’ power plant. It need not be recalled here that for a 3500 megawatt power plant to be constructed at Dadari, the acquired land was more than 2,500 acres from different villages in the periphery of Dadari including Bajhera Khurd, which is the epicenter of the struggle against land acquisition.

Three years back when Mulayam Singh Yadav became chief minister of Uttar-Pradesh by way of a political manipulation, his right hand man Amar Singh was made Chairman of the newly formed Uttar-Pradesh Development Council, which declared that they would make Uttar-Pradesh as ‘Uttam-Pradesh’, a wonderful state. The UPDC consisted of Industrialists like Anil Ambani, Adi Godrej, Subroto Roy and Amitabh Bachchan, all of who are well known as personal friends of Mr Amar Singh.

The UP Development Council was supposed to guide the industrial policy of the government. Instead, it became a council, which divided various zones for its own purposes. Therefore, Amitabh Bachchan became a farmer in Barabanki, while Subroto Roy decided that he should provide housing to state people while Anil Ambani, the prized catch of Amar Singh, was given to build power plant at Dadari.

A report published by People’s Union for Civil Liberties and National Alliance of People’s Movement jointly together after visiting the areas. It was said that this power plant would overcome the shortfall of electricity in Uttar-Pradesh and the farmers whose land has been acquired would get electricity at the cheaper rates of Rs 2/- per unit. Over 2,500 acres of land has been acquired in the entire vicinity and the rates given to the farmers was Rs 150 per square yard while the market price is over Rs 5,500/- per square yard.

The farmers of Dadari had been raising their issue with a number of political parties but unfortunately the issue did not get any attention from them. Former Prime Minister V P Singh who had been actively supporting the grassroots movements including the question of slum dwellers, issue of Narmada and displaced farmers was approached by the farmers group of Uttar-Pradesh to support their struggle. V P Singh had earlier launched movement for small and marginal farmers in Eastern Uttar-Pradesh who are dying of hunger and starvation.

V P Singh and his colleagues in Janmorcha decided that they would till the land at Dadari on July 8th, 2006. Uttar-Pradesh government after knowing the incident decided to take the escapist route of the judiciary. The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High court was approached in the evening. The acting chief Justice of the Lucknow bench justice Jagdish Bhalla appointed a two member committee to look into the petition filed by the Reliance Industries of Anil Ambani. In the midnight of 7th July at around 11 pm, the two judges appointed by Justice Bhalla, heard the petition filed by the son of justice Bhalla on behalf of Reliance Group. The judges without giving notices to the aggrieved party passed an order that the government must ‘protect’ the acquired site and should not allow any public meeting with in the vicinity of the Bajhera Khurd.

According to noted lawyer Prashant Bhushan, the Lucknow bench overstepped its jurisdiction by accepting this case, which does not fall under its category. Secondly, he openly called for a committee to be appointed by the Chief Justice of Supreme Court to inquire into the mater whether Justice Bhalla has not violated the code of judicial ethics. Justice Bhalla should be asked to resign or failing which an impeachment process should start by the Parliament, said Prashant Bhushan. In an interview to Outlook news magazine, former Chief Justice of India, Justice J.S.Verma was critical of the conduct of Justice Bhalla and raised the question of judicial ethics. Justice Verma said that justice should be seen as being delivered and the judges need to be very careful about the same. Just as I write this comes the disclosure made by the NDTV ( its reporter Ajmer Singh reporting from Noida) that Justice Bhalla’s wife Renu Bhalla was given special favour by the Uttar-Pradesh government. She was given a plot of 7000 square yard in posh Noida area worth 7 crore market value while she paid just Rs 500000 for the same. The authorities are tightlipped over it but definitely the conduct of Justice Bhalla is turning into a scandal for judiciary similarly like that of Justice Ramaswamy who was impeached in the Parliament thought the impeachment motion did not get through.

The issue of Dadari power plant thus has immense national value. One, after raising it, V.P.Singh has really highlighted the issue of Special Economic Zone and issue of land acquisition in the name of ‘national interest’. Now the government has to think it over properly before taking any decision. It seems the government now has realized the potential threat to Indian farmers if this process of creating ‘Special Economic Zones’ goes uncontrolled and there are talks of ceiling limit for these areas. Nodoubt, in the past 10 years, the corporatisation and urbanization process has caused immense harm to the rural economy of many developing countries. The promises made by the world government in 1996 World Food Summit were easily forgotten. Agrarian Reform has gone out of the agenda of the government. Perhaps the new meaning being provided to
Agrarian Reform is the corporatisation of agrarian system.
It is ironic that when farmers are dying of starvation and committing suicide, when small weavers are on the verge of death, when handloom, handicraft items are dying slowly, this insensitive government goes on to open the huge rural sector to big industrial houses. There is a virtual competition among the state government to invite the ‘industrial’ tycoons to ‘invest’ in the state. There is a clear nexus between the political leaders, bureaucrats and all of them are working with their own future prospectus in mind. This is clearly a national betrayal by the political business elite of the country and need to be challenged openly. While UP government provided 2,500 acres of most fertile land of India to build a power plant which there is no surety about the gas as well as its future. The concern of the people are not entirely unfounded as we have seen the powerful Enron backtracking and destroying livelihood of thousands of farmers and our political class getting unscathed. The decision of the Haryana government to give 25000 acre land to Mukesh Ambani lead Reliance group for retail items in India is an open challenge to India’s rural economy. It will create more unemployment and difficult conditions for farmers and weavers to survive.

The question is why the issues like acquisition of land have not become major political
issue in this country. The answer could be found easily in some of the contradictions
which have developed in our society and have reflected more in recent future. The fact of
the matter is that farmers themselves are of different castes and when the election time
arrive they go back to their clans. The identity politics has led to further marginalisation
of the real issues of the farmers. When the politician gets vote in the name of their caste
and clan, where is the need for any one to work for them. Ajit Singh remain the choice
number one in western Uttar-Pradesh despite the most troublesome record of political

How to tackle this monster which has rendered the farmers, agricultural workers and
Others as workless and jobless. Brazil, Venujuela, Cuba and now Bolivia have shown the
way. The firstindigenous president of Bolivia is on the path of Land Reform in the
country which were denied by the puppet governments. In South Asia, barring India, a
majority of countrieswere autocratic, military dictators or monarchies? Most of the
people’s movement in these countries looked towards India for inspiration.
Unfortunately, the political class in India has failed them despite wider people’s
movement all over the country. Wherever,the political system failed, the people have
picked up guns. The police personnel killed inthe naxal violence is much higher than
those killed in the ‘terrorist’ violence. The government is now planning Special Security
Zones where it can send more army personnel to tackle the violent situation. Naxal
violence is increasingly challenging our nation state. Chhatishgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa,
Andhra Pradesh, Maharastra are in the grip of the ultra left radical groups. It is these
states where the big corporate houses are playing their dirty games at the cost of the
people. Uprooting the tribals, Dalits and other marginalized from their mainland would
result in further chaos. The continuous deaths of farmers in Vidharbha, Punjab,
Bundelkhand will further complicate the situation unabated. The political leaders of the
farmers remain irrelevant today.

The political leadership of Uttar-Pradesh has made it a point to go ahead with Dadari
project without taking the farmer’s interest into account. The way it went out of its way
to hit out at the villagers in the vicinity of Dadari is a case point how the politicians have
been blinded by their monitory interests. On 17th of August, Mr V.P.Singh again tried to
visit the area and his entry was prohibited in the state though he made it a point to visit
Bajhera Khurd village clandestinely next day but the highhanded attitude of the police
need to be investigated.

If the farmers are able to make their presence felt in the coming Uttar-Pradesh elections,
India is going for a massive change. If the government of India does not understand the
current agrarian crisis in totality, India may be going for a ‘revolutionary’ change in
future when people will throw away corporate sponsored right wing political class which
has forgotten people’s issues for their crony interests.

From Narmada to Polvaram in Andhra Pradesh. From Kalinga-Nagar to Sheonath river in
the Durg district of Chhatishgarh, the fisher folks of Trinelivelly in Kanyakumari to
Chandanipur, firing range in Orissa or tea plantation workers in West Bengal and now the
farmers of Dadari, or the tribals in Sri-Harikota, every one is the victim of unsustainable
Development. The stock exchange and its sensex or the promised 8% growth rate mean
nothing to those who have been thrown away from the mainstream. Can there really be a
peace in the country by snatching the livelihood of those who feed the country and made
it self-sufficient in food production ? India must find the right answer or be prepared for
another phase of uncontrollable chaos?