Discussion on Land Acquisition organized by the Lok Raj Sangathan

Activists unitedly oppose the Land Acquisition programme of the Ruling Class!

On 19th April 2015 the Thane committee of Lok Raj Sangathan organized a meeting of activists to discuss the important issue of Land Acquisition. Activists of many organizations from Mumbai, Thane and Raigad districts participated vigorously.

The meeting started with a presentation on the subject by Lok Raj Sangathan.It was pointed out that prior to British rule there was no private ownership of land in our country. Farmers were allotted land which they were responsible for tilling.The British introduced the zamindari system of land ownership. The War of Independence in 1857 revealed to the British rulers that they needed to put up railways across our country, not only for moving raw materials and finished goods but also for fast troop movement to quellopen revolts against their rule.Putting up railway required large amounts of land. They also needed to increase mining activities to loot and plunder the rich natural resources of our country. That is why they passed Land Acquisition Act in 1894.

Under this Act the British government took forcible possession of land. To fool the people they claimed that they were taking over land for servingthe public interest. However in reality, all such projects mainly benefited the British ruling class. There were many revolts across India against theseactions.

When the country became independent in 1947, like many other anti-people Acts, this one too remained on the statute books. Peoplewere never asked if this hated Act should continue even after 1947. Over the decades the Act was used by various governments at the Central and State levels to acquire land in the name of public interest, growth and development. Over the decades more than 6 crore people, including about 4 crore adivasis have been displaced without rehabilitation or compensation for such projects.

In many large cities and towns land acquired has been handed over to big capitalists at throw -away prices. For example, in Mumbai alone big capitalist firms and trusts like Godrej and Boyce, Beheramjee Jeejeebhoy, Larsen and Toubro, Mahindra and Mahindra, and various five star hotels together own thousands of acres of land.Thousands of hectares of rich fertile land near big cities like Mumbai has been given away at throwaway prices to big capitalist companies like Reliance Industries for building SEZs and so on.

After 1990, under the new economic policy of Globalization by Liberalization and Privatization, demand for land from Indian and foreign monopoly companies increased tremendously.It is estimated that in the next 15-20 years more than 64 lakh hectares of land is required for agri-business, 70 lakh hectares for infrastructure projects, and 23 lakh hectares for mining and other extraction projects.

But people’s opposition to such acquisition also grewand got more and more organized. Hence the government needed an Act which would legitimise land acquisition and fool the peoplethat their interests would be protected.This is why under the UPA government of Manmohan Singh, the parliament passed “The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparencyin Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill 2013”. High publicity was given to some provisions in the bill which promise higher compensation to land owners and those dependent on land. However a closer look reveals that the provisions of this Act had many loopholes to ensure that land could be acquired as before, leaving the people high and dry. This Act has the same orientation as the old Act of 1894: of making land easily available to capitalist monopolies and trampling underfoot the right to livelihood of thousands whose land was to be acquired.

The current BJP led government announced its clear intention of further attacking people when it clarified that without land acquisition it is difficult to execute their ambitious pet projects, including the “Make in India” programme. It decided to further dilute the Act of 2013 to make it easier to acquire land.Since it could not get it passed in both houses of parliament quickly it passed an ordinance which amended and diluted the Act of 2013. The presentation thus clarified that Indian ruling classes continued with the Act of 1894 even after independence till 2013, modified it in 2013 and once again in 2015. The intention is the same as that of the British rulers – to serve the interests of the ruling class under the guise of public interest at the cost of livelihood of masses of Indian people.

This presentation was appreciated by several speakers and other participants.

Many speakers then presented their views and enriched the discussion. Advocate Sunil Dighe pointed out that Adivasis revolted against the British rule many times and hence British rulers brought out the Forest Act in 1861. This Act established the ownership of the British government over all the forests of India and was precursor to the Land Acquisition Act of 1894. He also explained that the Maharashtra government has used another dirty trick to negate the right of adivasis over forests. It has ordered a census of tribals during which caste or other certificates are demanded from tribals. A very large number of tribals are unable to produce such certificates, thus depriving them of being classified as tribals. Most of the 174 SEZs of Maharashtra are close to the Eastern side of the Sahyadri mountain range. This is the side from which a large number of rivers flow. Thus the SEZ owners will indirectly have ownership over these rivers. This is alien to our culture. “How can right to life be compensated by any amount?”is what he asked.

A leading activist and leader from Raigad district, Shrimati Vaishali Patil raised the important question “What is the meaning of Public Interest and who should decide what is in Public interest and what is not?” British rulers decided that only the Government has the right to decide ‘public interest’. Since 1947, the government of the day continues to decide which projects are in public interest, in India’s interests, which company is working in country’s interest, etc. These governments not only give such companies cheap or free land but also give them huge financial subsidies. For example, tax exemptions given to SEZs are more than the money budgeted by the government of India for the Employment Guarantee Scheme! She appreciated the efforts of Lok Raj Sangathan for awakening the urban population on such issues which are wrongly considered as issues of only the project affected and farmers. She pointed out how the adverse impact of such laws on the livelihood of farmers and adivasis will also impact the urban population adversely.

A young political activist pointed out that a very large proportion of farmers want to leave farming and migrate to cities because of the anti-farmer policies of various governments. If this happens it will adversely impact food security of our country. Instead of such anti-people laws what is required is to help farmers for collectivization and to develop infrastructure necessary for agriculture.

Dr.Sawant, an environmental activist, passionately pointed out that all such policies are ignoring the most important aspect of development - the harmonious development of industry and agriculture in complete harmony with environment and nature. Such policies are thus leading to major environmental imbalance causing many natural calamities and global warming.

A young member of Lok Raj Sangathan made a power point presentation about a field visit to get first hand information from the peopleaffected by the Tarapur nuclear power plant. The presentation highlighted the fact that government has not kept any promise which it gave to the people of Tarapur more than 40 years ago. These people gave away their fertile land for the plant as they were made to believe it was for the national interest.Today they have not only lost their livelihood, but suffer daily due to the radioactive pollution caused by the plant. He called upon the youth present in the meeting to never believe what they are told by the government and media but to investigate themselves, and use their brains before reaching any conclusions.

The speaker from CGPI congratulated all those who participated in the discussion. She said that such respectful dialogue and discussion is very necessary to build political unity of all who are fighting against various aspects of the current system. Be it the struggle in defence of livelihood, in defence of democratic rights, for justice, for environment, be it the struggles of workers or peasants or adivasis, all are against various aspects of the capitalist system. It is essential to understand that the root cause of all the ills of society is the capitalist system. The ruling class of India continues to rule us by fooling and dividing usjust like the British ruling class did. For example, on the issue of Land acquisition it is trying to portray that those who oppose such forcible land acquisition are against development and against public interests, whereas all those who want development must support such laws. It is necessary to continue exposing such lies. Why we can’t think that all of us from different organizations are parts of the same body whose common objective is to make our country an excellent place to live in harmony with nature for the benefit of all the working people, she said. We need to establish the rule of the workers and toilers!

The speaker from the Kamgar Ekta Committee said that the capitalist class looks at labour and land with the same perspective, of exploiting them to the maximum. Besides the land acquisition related laws, the capitalist class is also gunning for anti-people labour laws.Trading capitalist monopolies exploit both farmers and workers. It is in the interests of both the working class and peasantry to end the rule of capitalist class and the exploitation.

After several other interventions, the Lok Raj Sangathan speaker thanked all those who participated in the discussions and said that all have learnt from each other. He declared that Lok Raj Sangathan will hold more such discussions on a regular basis in the future. The meeting ended with a song rendered by two young activists of LRS.

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May 1-15 2015    Struggle for Rights    Popular Movements    

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