Monday, February 21, 2011

Stop agricultural land grabbing for corporate Greed

Raigad’s victory is Inspiring and a warning to greedy corporate By Vidya Bhushan Rawat With the Maharastra government denotifying the land acquired for Raigad SEZ of Mukesh Ambani led group Reliance Industries come an end to a historic protest movement of Raigad farmers who had deep faith in the democratic structure of the country despite its all weaknesses. They not only defied all the acquisition process which were constitutionally illegal but also organized a massive referendum against it which was not accepted by the government. A majority of farmers had actually rejected government’s offer to do away with their land. The land acquisition procedure for the proposed SEZ project, spread over 35,000 acres in Raigad was started in May 2006. But, the company managed to acquire only 13 per cent of the land within the stipulated period, as it faced strong opposition from farmers. In fact most of the farmers protested against forcible land acquisition and even organized a local referendum against the said acquisition and voted against the entire process. But the Maharastra government was determined to deliver it to Reliance unless the company could not acquire the other land in stipulated period of time in December 2009. It was the people’s movement that were continuously opposing the acquisition process and who went to the Supreme Court against the failure of the company to comply with the law related to SEZ. The question was why it wanted to acquire such a massive land but for the government officials that did not matter as they were overwhelmed by Reliance company. Even when The Raigad victory comes at a time when the country witnessed many things including the unabated violence in Chhatishgarh. While for the government it is easy to say that people must have faith in the government and its courts yet for the victims it’s very difficult to wait for years to get justice. We have witnessed many cases when the victims do not get justice for years and the government, the industries and the powerful have enough patience to wait as they have nothing to lose. India’s SEZ’s are nothing but new colonization process of our farmers, Adivasis and Dalits which are out of their purview and meant for export product. The land being acquired for these SEZs is enormously high quality agricultural land. Also, most of this land has rarely been used as the ration between the land acquired and its usage is very vast. The real face of this land grab is actually the vast housing market in India in the coming days. We all know once these conclaves come into picture; the industries will shift their focus on real estate. The second tenure of UPA have seen rabid rise in the land acquisition process throughout the country with scantiest regard for public norms and sentiments of the farmers. The government virtually became real estate agent and big companies enjoyed the curtsy. The result was growing unrest against the illegal land grabbing all over the country. The political parties failed to pick up the issue and were very opportunistic in their approach. Trinamool Congress opposed the process in West Bengal while kept quite on things happening in other parts. Similarly, CPM and other left parties could not mobilize people against this corporate greed as their own West Bengal experience was the most horrendous one. It is important to ask the question as why the corporate want land in thousands of acre. The same government which refuses to redistribute land to the landless people is readily agreeing it handover to the big corporations. They are coming with new ides to lure farmers. In various meeting when the farmers raised the issue of land prices, the builders, and business houses only complained that the prices rose when they start building a project. The issue is not that the land prices shot up after somebody started building up an SEZ. The insensitivity with which our officials deal the issue is shameful and reflects why it is happening. If in the government offices, we have least representation of Dalits, Backwards, Adivasis, how can we think of justice being done to them. Similar things needed in judiciary. As the upper caste bias is clearly reflected in the activities of the state and judgments of the courts. Of course, there is some oasis of fresh air which comes these days and we must celebrate that. Raigarh’s victory is a great motivator for all of us. Maharastra government has not withdrawn just because Supreme Court gave an order. I know many of the Supreme Court order have never been implemented. The political parties and their establishment address to the issue only when people are united. The government listens to the voices when people are united against their oppression. Raigad’s whole acquisition was illegal though unfortunately Supreme Court could not stop it but it stopped because of the company itself was unable to fulfill the mandate. Thankfully, the Supreme Court did not come under any emotional pressure of the company as they have the best lawyers at their disposal, and stuck to their stand that government must acquire the land. It is clear that the way which our political establishment went over handing over prime time land to corporate is perhaps independent India’s biggest scams. The farmers are a big power in India and no government can come to power by antagonizing them. SEZs clearly violated the policy of the government which says agricultural land will not be given for the non agricultural purposes. The industries grabbed these lands for throw away prices in close connivance with government officials who had the blessing of their political masters. I can say with full conviction that an audit of the land grab in India during past 20 years would prove that land acquisition will be the biggest scams in the history of independent India. Chief Ministers have collected huge money for their party in the name of ‘development’. Such acquisitions must be scrutinized and CAG must audit all the process. When the people are losing hope in our judicial process and our farmers are our deep stress, its time to think over the entire process which is simply called corporate land grabbing. At a time when our agricultural production is under serious threat, when corporate greed is ready to demolish and annihilate our agriculture and our farmers, this judgment is definitely going to help the people. This also proves that the people who are leading the movement must concentrate on their region, make linkages with national and international movements yet must do everything to reach to a logical conclusion. I know it is a difficult task. Temptation of visibility in the media and elsewhere some time actually put the activist somewhere else at the cost of the people. They forget the issue and take people for granted. Some time the activists become bigger than people or developed that notion and develop a larger than life image about them. They become obsessed with their mirror image and take a rigid position. Many of them start thinking that they would rest only when the entire system is changed and hence do not want to negotiate on anything. For the common men who lose their land, the major issue is not ideology but justice. Those who lose their livelihood, their culture and their homes do not wait for particular ideology but want to get justice. But in the din of ideological debates, activists change their track for their own benefits. It has happened on many places where the issues which made some one visible is forgotten and the hidden issues under national international agenda crops up to the great dismay of the people whose rights we claim to fight. Many times, the people leave the battle half way and shift some where else. Some time, people are unable to mobilize larger public opinion on it. The issue particularly caste based differences always occur in such movements and need to be handled with great care. Some time in the broader frame work of anti land acquisition process the landless farmers are completely marginalized. In the case of Raigad, the anti SEZ movement was constantly protesting with various new ideas and used every method of protest. It not only mobilized the farmers but also approached the courts, developed public opinion. Any movement needs multiple strategies to succeed. They need supporters in every sector including media, academics, human rights activists, social movements, political mobilization etc. However, unfortunately, the role of the opposition is not being played by political parties but by the social movements and hence things became a bit difficult as political establishment of the country continue to judge the social protest through a conspiracy angle. The campaign against civil society members, the FIR against activists and the threat to many RTI activists is example how the status-quoists feel threatened from them. There seems to be no opposition against these basic issues concerning our farmers and poor. Therefore, the faith of people is growing in the extra constitutional authorities. While the people of Raigad must be appreciated for their continuous effort to get justice, not every one is that fortunate to get justice. In the Raigad number mattered a lot while in many other cases the selection for land acquisition was very strategic. Hence the votes of the people never mattered as politicians always visited those areas which have substantial votes. Unfortunately, for Maharastra politicians this did not matter unless Supreme Court stuck down Reliance’s appeal for granting an extension. The government had no option to follow the court’s order. More importantly, the political climate in Delhi has changed and government was forced to take action in this matter. Raigad’s victory has gladdened the heart of people. Most importantly it has sent an important message that we will always win if we have faith in ourselves and are determined to take our battle to logical conclusion. For the government it is important not to push people to that extent that they pick up guns and lose faith in democracy. World over, people are protesting democratically and have defeated big despots and mighty armies. In India the despots come through corporate-bureaucrats-politicians’ nexus, in the form of forcible land acquisition. After Nandigram and Singur, this is perhaps the biggest victory of people’s movement. Nandigram and Singur might have been political yet Raigad victory will strengthen people’s faith in democratic process. The government must listen to these voices of people and not treat them their enemy. Political parties must relook into entire acquisition process and there should be a complete moratorium further acquisition unless they come to a conclusion after complete debate on it. Special sessions of Parliament and state assemblies should be convened to have a detailed discussion on our agricultural policy and land acquisition process in the country. In fact, the government must bring out a white paper on the land acquisition process and the losses it incurred after 1990s. At the moment, let us celebrate the victory in hope that the farmers will get their land soonest possible time without any hiccup from the government officials. The government must fine Reliance Industries for agricultural losses during this period and farmers must be compensated for the loss of their crop. After Nandigram and Singur, Raigad has sent clear signals that democracy is the best possible choice for justice despite all its shortcomings. People world over are fighting against tyrannical regimes so that they have a functioning demoracy.In our country people have to struggle against democratic governments for ignoring their problems. It all happens in the absence of a formidable opposition which speaks people’s voice. Fortunately, even when there are not much political opposition, people’s movements have succeeded in putting pressure on governments which have been united in grabbing their land. It is right time for them to read the writing on the wall otherwise they would decimate in next elections.

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