Remembering Kalinganagar, Nandigram

(As we observe the anniversary of the Kalinganagar firing and the Nandigram crackdown, Liberation takes stock of the struggles against corporate land grab: the successes, such as the scrapping of SEZs in Goa; the setbacks such the Singur HC verdict. We also review a new publication - a Report of a Tribunal on Nandigram. And interspersed with these are reports from the field of an ongoing struggle against an SEZ at Kakinada and news clippings which are an ironic counterpoint to the propaganda surrounding Singur and the Nano. - Ed/)

New Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation Bills:

Ample Leeway for Corporate Land Grab

This January marked two years of the Kaliganagar massacre and one year of the first assaults on the peasants of Nandigram. In the ensuing period, Kalinganagars and Nandigrams have multiplied, even as ruling parties of all hues are united in their policy of SEZs, corporate land grab and state repression on movements, and the people and peasantry are united in their determination to intensify their resistance. In the first week of January this year, Congress' Digambar Kamat Government in Goa was forced to bow to overwhelming public opinion and people's movements and scrap all SEZs in Goa; Congress in fact has blamed the SEZ lobby for trying to destabilise its Goa Government! In the same week, Union minister for Commerce Kamal Nath sent a detailed report to the PM, extolling the success stories of the SEZ policy which is set to complete two years of its enactment soon.

As life and death battles being waged across the length and breadth of the nation on the issue of land acquisition, and as the policies of corporate land grab stand thoroughly exposed and discredited, governments seem to be following the classic ‘carrot and stick policy’ whereby resistance movements have been brutally dealt through police firings in Nandigram, Singur, Dadri and innumerable other places and simultaneously attempts are made to contain the anger by offering a new Land Acquisition Amendment Bill and the National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, to be introduced in the winter session of the Parliament. The stated objectives of these bills are to “strike a balance between the need for land for development and other public purposes and protecting interests of the persons whose lands are statutorily acquired.” However, on a close examination of the provisions of the proposed amendments one realises that the balance is heavily tilted against the “affected persons”.

The Land Acquisition Bill 2007, in the statement of objects and purposes, admits that ‘public purpose’ for which land is to be acquired has to be defined. However, it very categorically enlarges the scope of ‘public purpose’ clause to include a huge swathe of public facilities, from electricity, communication and water supply to mining. The admission of mining as a category in infrastructure projects for public purpose is particularly dangerous given the fact that mining-related projects in the last decade have proved to be crystal clear examples of corporate loot. Mining projects include captive mines of private steel/power companies and 100% export mines and mining SEZs, the latest case in point being the POSCO project in Jagatsinghpur in Orissa. On the second anniversary of Kalinganagar massacre, which serves as a 'warning' to tribal poor of the consequence of resisting land grab in Orissa, it is nothing but an irony of sorts that mining projects have been included in the public purpose clause.

The public purpose infrastructure clause goes on to include "Any other public facility as may be notified by the Central Govt" which leaves ample scope for land acquisition for any purpose which may or may not be in public interest.

The 1894 Act had a provision for the state acquiring land for private companies. The 2007 amendment bill in its statement of objects mentions that “it is desirable to omit the (this) provision of the act” in the interest of a “fair arrangement of willing buyer willing seller” though the “willing seller willing buyer” arrangement might not always be “fair” given the muscle power private companies wield. However, the new bill talks of state intervention for land acquisition for private companies to a “limited” extent of up to 30 per cent. At present, the bill, and the policy on land acquisition announced by the Union Government earlier, state that the state governments can acquire up to 30 percent of the "total area required" for reasons of contiguity. For this, in practice, letters of intents from neighbouring landowners are to be produced for the state to start notifying acquisition of land from unwilling landowners identified by the private company. This is an obnoxious practice as moneybags can easily obtain fake LoIs to get the state acquire any amount of land they require from unwilling landowners. Moreover, private land mafia and goons and powerful politicians are being deployed by them in numerous instances to coerce the landowners to sell their land under force, for instance in cases like Kakinada SEZ and in for SEZs in Sriperumpudur, at Pallikkaranai near Chennai IT Corridor and in Anantapur in AP or Nandagudi near Bangalore. Very clearly the state would intervene not to protect the vulnerable land losers but state power would be used to force unwilling landowners to surrender their land. This 30 per cent leeway given to government to acquire land has come as a sigh of relief for private investors and promoters as there has been land acquisition by the state has been forced on the back foot since April last year following violent protests by farmers.

In the ‘Notes on Clauses’ in the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill 2007, it is mentioned that “Clause 4 seeks to insert new section 1A to provide for application of provisions of Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill 2007 for land acquisition under this act”. Interestingly, the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill 2007 – which has been made applicable for cases of land acquisition under this proposed act for land acquisition – defines the party for which the land is being acquired thus: '“requiring body" means a company, a body corporate, an institution, or any other organisation for whom land is to be acquired by the appropriate Government, and includes the appropriate Government, if the acquisition of land is for such Government either for its own use or for subsequent transfer of such land in public interest to a company, body corporate, an institution, or any other organisation, as the case may be, under lease, licence or through any other mode of transfer of land' [3 (t)].

If both the bills are to be applicable simultaneously for all projects then it is quite evident that land would be acquired by the state for a government body/quasi government body/joint sector promoters and can be handed over on sale or lease to private companies given the fact that Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) is the new mantra for “development” today. The “restriction” on private companies would hold no meaning in such cases.

Infrastructure and amenities to be provided in the resettlement sites have not been specified in the Bill. Only some unspecified amount of profit of the requiring body is to be spent on vague developmental activities in the resettlement area which is left to the discretion of the Government. Experiences of the oustees of almost all development projects in the last fifty years are a pointer to the dismal record of government in providing even minimal facilities like drinking water, schools, proper housing facilities etc. One has to only to take a round of ‘vasavats’ in Narmada Valley or resettlement sites of Hirakud project affected people to see this; the story of denial of rehabilitation is same everywhere.

The Rehabilitation Bill does not provide any guaranteed land-for-land compensation which has been one of the major demands of all movements against land acquisition all over the country and was also admitted by the Apex court in case of Narmada Bachao Andolan as “the principle” of compensation.

Employment to one person of each displaced “may be” given, provided he/she meets necessary skills etc. It is not obligatory on the part of land grabbers. It is evident that farmers who stand to lose their only source of livelihood in the form of their land do not possess necessary skills to be employed either as automobile engineers in Ratan Tata’s car factory or chemical engineers Reliance’s petro-chemical project. This vague clause absolves corporates of any responsibility to provide any alternate source of livelihood to the oustees. Any claim for employment can be turned down using the skills shield.

There is no explicit provision in the Bill to give it retrospective to make it applicable to all cases of land acquisition of the past. Though the UPA leaders including the Prime Minister and all other concerned ministers have gone on record that this bill was being brought in because of the resistance to SEZs, there is no clear-cut and categorical provision that this Bill, when enacted, would be applicable in all cases of SEZs even if their approval and notification had preceded the passage of this Bill.

The UPA Government's proposed amendments to the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 and its proposed R&R Bill are likely to be welcomed by the CPI(M) which has been demanding such enactments for long; but it is clear that these pieces of legislation are intended to smooth the way for land grab by giving it a veneer of respectability and restraint - rather than to protect the peasant from land grab. For the people's movements waging struggle armed with the legacy of Kalinganagar and Nandigram, the UPA Government's New Year gifts are a mockery. Nothing short of scrapping of the Land Acquisition Act 1894 and SEZ Act 2005 can be acceptable to the peasants resisting land grab.

Mona Das


Shylock Can Never Return the Pound of Flesh…

Even where SEZs are defeated, it seems that land acquired for SEZs can't be returned! See the press clipping below:

Goa SEZ issue referred to law ministry

Business Standard, New Delhi January 22, 2008

The commerce ministry has asked the law ministry to give its views on the request by the Goa government to de-notify three special economic zones (SEZs) in the state.

“We have asked the law ministry for their views on the matter. Subsequently, the Board will take a final decision in a meeting in February,” said Commerce Secretary G KPillai on the sidelines of the India-UK CEO roundtable.

According to Pillai, even if the SEZs were stripped of the notified status, the infrastructure that has been constructed will remain and will continue to function as an industrial unit.

The SEZ Act, 2005, does not have provisions for de-notifying a zone. “The issue is complex. The central government will need a special ordinance, which will give the Board of Approval the power to de-notify a zone,” said Hitender Mehta, head of the Gurgaon office of legal firm, Vaish Associates.

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