Land Acquisition Act – Why is being a minority a crime?

The path to industrialisation is laden with nails and scraps, especially if you happen to oppose it.

They say that the sole reason the sub-prime crisis did not hit India is because people here treat land and homes differently than the West. A home or a piece of land is near sacred in India. People in India dream of owning a house, one day. 

What if one fine day, in the name of industrialisation, your government decides to throw you out of your dream? And ‘compensate’ you with four times the market value of your dream or two times depending upon the geography you dared to dream in. 

Now of course you can’t be thrown out of your homes or your land can be snatched away from you if you belong to the 80% of the people who agree that a factory should be set up in your area. Because that is what the Land Acquisition Bill proposes. “In case of acquisition of land for use by private companies or public private partnerships, consent of 80 per cent of the displaced people will be required,” it says. 

What we saw in Odisha with respect to the aluminium refinery of billionaire Anil Agarwal-controlled Vedanta Resources Plc is near legendary. Village after village rejected the mega-factory and chose to not part with their land and measly earnings. But this is democracy and is seen a triumph of democracy. 

But isn’t this tilted against the minority? Sure, in an election, the person with the majority votes wins but does that mean he/she works only for the people who voted for him/her and neglects the others? 

Of course not. Because the votes are secret. 

However, this Land Acquisition Bill says that if 80% of the people agree for the factory then the factory will be set up on their lands. The rest have to just agree and take the massive compensation and find solace in money. 

You might argue that the minority in this case, the 20%, shouldn’t be complaining because they are being paid wild money and the company will take care of their rehabilitation. 

But the tribes of Odisha, just recently, showed you that money isn’t everything. They believed in their sacred hill and were not ready to part with it. Even though Vedanta would have offered them money which otherwise would have taken them a hundred years to earn (metaphorically). 

Just because a majority was against Vedanta and its money this is seen a people’s win. What if only 20% felt that their land is too precious for them to part with? Wouldn’t they be labelled as anti-industrialisation? Anti-growth? Anti-India? 

Getting every land owner to agree and part their land for a factory is indeed a utopian dream which is impossible to achieve. But at least let’s not treat India as China and those 20% as a mere percentage figure. 

What we need is a policy that treats people as people and not numbers. What we need to understand is that just because a poor has land to his name and is yet finding it difficult to make ends meet, giving him a lump sum money and “rehabilitation” him is not a solution. This is not inclusive growth. Even though China enters our territory quite often, we must remember that we are not them. We are India. We are a democracy. 

It is to be noted that the above point is only for the land acquisition by the private companies. For a private-public partnership, the consent is only at 70 per cent and for the government projects no consent from the landowners is required. And this means a forcible eviction. 

For compensation to the land owners, the bill reads, “Once the market value is calculated, it is doubled for land in rural areas. There is no doubling of value in urban areas. Then, the value of all assets attached to the land (trees, buildings, etc) is added to this amount. On this amount, a 100% solatium, (i.e., extra compensation for the forcible nature of acquisition), shall be given to arrive at the final compensation figure.” 

And the government, which is by the people, for the people and of the people, doesn’t have to take consent of the 80%. Public sector companies, or the companies owned by the government is absolved from this clause. 

Just because we vote a government to power doesn’t mean that its every decision is for our good. Kudankulum and Jaitapur nuclear power plants are just two recent examples of how the people protested but the government still went ahead with its plans. 

“To ensure, in consultation with institutions of local self-government and Gram Sabhas established under the Constitution, a humane, participative, informed and transparent process for land acquisition for industrialisation, development of essential infrastructural facilities and urbanisation with the least disturbance to the owners of the land and other affected families and provide just and fair compensation to the affected families whose land has been acquired or proposed to be acquired or are affected by such acquisition and make adequate provisions for such affected persons for their rehabilitation and resettlement and for ensuring that the cumulative outcome of compulsory acquisition should be that affected persons become partners in development leading to an improvement in their post-acquisition social and economic status and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto,” reads the Land Acquisition Bill. 

You can give a candy to a kid to pacify him but very soon he will finish it and the bawling will begin again.

Shubhashish is a journalist who is now pursuing Masters in International Studies and Diplomacy in London. Email:shubhashish@msn.com

 

This column originally appeared in DNA on September 12, 2013. 

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The actual cost of the Food Security Bill is the dignity of the rich

What is the job of the government? This is a broad question which has a broader answer: Welfare. Welfare of whom? Its citizens.

If we are asked to prioritise, on top we will and we should have the have-nots. The poor. The ones who cannot afford to spend even on basic necessities of life. The disadvantaged. For long the so-called elite and even middle class India has been raucously against reservations in educational institutes. What is happening in India is that the government is indulging in spoon-feeding people. The same is happening with the reservation in schools/colleges and the same is feared to happen with the Food Security Bill.

The vehement opposition of the FSB made me think whether we have added the term ‘Capitalist’ to ‘Sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic’ of India. Although you might argue that our sovereignty is compromised by neighbouring countries on a regular basis and we look on meekly, the government is privatising its companies, secularism is near farcical with the leaders of the who’s who of the Indian polity are smeared with communal blood and the freedom of expression is regularly curbed in the world’s largest democracy.

Isn’t it the job of the government to take care of its poor? In the name of economics, can you have a good night’s sleep thinking that you snatched food from people while you fine-dine night after night?

Just because the government’s missteps of the past couple of years has landed us in an economic jeopardy which is nearly unparalleled in the history of this nation, does this mean that the government should stop working towards the people who are likely to be the most affected in this complex economic crossfire?

The head of your family gets demoted, or worse, loses his/her job. Does this give them an excuse to stop providing for the family? No.

The high debt that the current government has run up cannot be an excuse to deprive people from their basic needs – food.

What the government needs to do is to get its act together and find money to fund this social welfare scheme.

Maybe the Food Security Bill will not wipe out hunger and malnutrition as envisaged by Sonia Gandhi. But does that mean you stop trying until you find the utopian wand?

Maybe this is a populist measure by the government to get votes in the elections next year. But by those standards, aren’t all welfare schemes populist?

Money has to be reallocated, moved and redeployed from higher up to the lowest common denominator. You tax the rich and subsidise the poor. What is wrong with it? Isn’t that the reason why our income-tax slabs go higher up as income goes up? Or the surcharge on the income of the rich that the government announced earlier this year? We saw the massive protests against those moves because the rich do not want to partake their money. But they want to poor to fend for themselves. Textbook capitalism.

To me, the question of the affordability of the Food Security Bill doesn’t even arise because this is a bill that has to be foot by someone.

The talk of inclusive growth is a hollow one unless the fruit of the GDP trickles down.

Of course footing this Food Security Bill is going to be expensive. But instead of debating its roll out, people and the industry should rather focus on ways to find money for it. The wasteful expenditures of the government need to stop.

This Hindu Business Line article explains that in 2012-13, the government of India forego a whopping Rs5,73,627 crore to the rich and the mighty. Why has this become an intricate part of our fiscal policy?

This report by India Spend shows how India gave away tax breaks to the tune of Rs5,33,582 crore or 67% of its tax collections in 2011-12. Is this a prudent tax policy in the current times?

Shouldn’t the people who can afford to pay taxes be told that the honeymoon is over?

Corporate India has come out in numbers to oppose the Food Security Bill and its implications on India’s current account deficit.

The government has said that the expenditure on the Bill will not exceed the already budgeted ?90,000 crore for the current fiscal. In 2011,12 alone, the revenue foregone from corporate India was ?61,765 crore. Shouldn’t they be first setting an example by asking the government to let go of this walking stick?

Just in two years’ time, from 2010-11 to 2012-13, the tax foregone has increased by over Rs1,00,000 crore. Why is the government leaning towards the rich with such aplomb?

The clout of the lobby of the gold traders and jewellers can be seen from the fact that they strike for three weeks straight to protest the government’s tax move earlier this year. Pranab Mukherjee, the then finance minister’s assurance to look into the rollback made them call off the strike.

Do the poor in India have the might of this kind to fight for their rights? Ponder.

 

Shubhashish is a journalist who is now pursuing Masters in International Studies and Diplomacy in London. Email: shubhashish@msn.com

 

This column originally appeared in DNA on September 3, 2013. 

The vicious circle

It was like a closely guarded secret
Never to be spoken of again to anyone
The door was locked, unconquerable
The key was at the bottom of the ocean
The smile was stern and eyes were dry
The body uptight, the attitude was fake
The encryption brought sweat to faces
As he looked wayward, afar and truant
It was just then she walked in breezily
Unexpected, she caught him off-guard
He stumbled to understand the storm
She had unlocked the door with a smile
Weeks that followed were a mad-rush
Mind wavered and the heart faltered
Eyes got back its depth, searching her
His smile was wide to accommodate her
Then she vanished, left him wondering
The smile is now hollow, eyes searching.

The WeChat group blast!

 

I would have Manmohan Singh, Navjot Singh Siddhu, Narendra Modi, Barack Obama, Aamir Khan and myself in the WeChat group.

I think this is the most explosive combination of randomness one can ever think of. Imagine, a sardar who doesn’t speak versus a sardar who won’t stop. Narendra Modi will troll Obama for not letting him  visit the US and Aamir Khan will be busy figuring out how can WeChat be more methodical than his acting preparations.

I will just be the moderator of this absolutely cracker of the WeChat group. As a guest member, I will also add Rahul Gandhi to the group. Manmohan Singh will pronounce him bigger than Obama and Gandhi will pay Rs 1000 to Modi. One just has to sit back, relax and see the fun that will unfurl.

There is no dearth of topics for them to talk about. Obama will help Manmohan Singh in write a speech but it will be a problem as our PM doesn’t open his mouth. Rahul Gandhi will also fail at it because he doesn’t believe in pre-written speeches and always makes a fool out of himself. Singh won’t have this luxury as he doesn’t need to speak to come out stupid.

At this point, Modi will start giving a fiery speech which will shut up everyone. Obama will troll Modi with the American visa rejection letter for the Gujarat CM.

Aamir Khan will be busy noting everything down to use as the basic premise in his next film. I will live tweet this WeChat group’s absolutely hilarious events.

We made history!

People say that the problem with me is that my writing is crude because it comes straight from the heart. I guess that explains why I am writing this email at 2.30 am and sending without editing or proofing. I can’t sleep. I am soaking in what we have just achieved. Project Hope. Rs 8 lakh. We are through.

I can’t be happier than to announce to you that we have done it. And we have two more months to go for the deadline.
You know, some said that I pulled it off because it was me. This is just half of the story. Maybe, even less than half. I pulled it off because it was you. Couldn’t have done this without you. You made this possible. Thank you.
I survived every single slander, smear, smug and schmuck behaviour all because of the faith you put in me. Incidentally, all these and I have a common beginning. The letter ‘S’.
I am not making any sense, am I? I am glad I am not. Because there is no better way to explain that I have no words to express my gratitude for what you did for me.
January 12. This is the date when I officially launched Project Hope. I still remember that moment crystal clear when I just told Manisha Lakhe that this is what I am going to do. She has been the backbone of this Project and with this letter I thank her. Without your support and her constant brainwashing I would have quit a long time ago.
I can’t even begin to thank every single one of you for contributing in whatever capacities you could, in spreading the word, in asking others to do the same and in not giving up on my Hope.
I received contributions ranging from Rs 400 to Rs 2,70,000. My hands shiver as I type this because I still can’t believe that we pulled this off. Once someone asked me if the amount of money an individual gave mattered or not. I replied, “Its the intent that matters more than what one gave.” I hope you will agree with me. We are a team. You and me.
You know, when we work to make something possible and that takes over our lives? That’s what Project Hope has been since January for me. I have breathed, eaten, slept and lived Project Hope. There hasn’t been a moment when I thought of anything else. I am glad I am unmarried else my wife would have divorced me for Hope.
And during this journey I realised this strange thing about a goal. When you set your eyes on one, you can’t see, think, imagine anything else. That goal encapsulates your existence. It enchants only one song. It drenches you in the rain where every drop is a reminder of your goal.
But when you achieve that goal life just zooms out and you realise how that goal, which till now was everything, is actually just the first step of a ladder.
We have made history, but in reality, this just turns out to be my first step towards a larger goal I set out to achieve.
I hope I am able to live up to the expectations you put in me. I hope I am able to live to the expectations I put in me. And I hope that with your continued support and love we continue to change lives day after day after day.
We were just 60. Imagining what more of us can do is exhilarating.
Oh and yes, Good morning!
Cheers!
Shubhashish
PS: This is the email I sent out last night to all those chose to a part of Project Hope.

When you get an email like this one

It is not very difficult to define the feeling. But I won’t. I want to be selfish with this one. Below is a letter sent by a student. Life feels complete. 

Letter: 

 

Hello Sir,
Aaj aapka paper Hua. And accha Hua. I am satisfied with hopefully the examiner will be too and even you once the marks come.
Well apart from that, certain acknowledgements, apologies, well wishes and promises are in order.
Starting with the good things. Thank you. A zillion times for the good three semesters and abundance of non academic knowledge you have given. There are times when I have quoted you and have appeared smart and knowledgeable enough for people to appreciate my mass media education which earlier had been looked down upon. Thank you for certain life lessons and yes obviously the education that has been provided by you.

The well wishes. Hope your health remains well. Good luck for Project Hope and your education in the United Kingdom. If all goes well then probably I might follow you to London next year. 

The apologises. Sincere apologises for any mistakes committed knowingly or unknowingly and if any trouble has been caused to you.

Finally the promises. I promise to work hard, become more sincere and grow. A promise to keep your teachings in mind always irrespective of what I do. A promise for a paragraph in my autobiography if ever published. And finally a promise to keep in touch wherever I am. Itna jaldi aapka peecha nahi chodenge sir.

P.s. Phew that is one long mail. Longer than probably my answered even. 

Regards,

 

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