Politics of land

Politics of land

The demonstration by farmers from western Uttar Pradesh in New Delhi on Thursday  demanding a higher price for their land being taken over for the ambitious Yamuna expressway project is only the latest in the series of similar protests from different parts of the country. The protesters were perhaps influenced by political parties opposed to the state chief minister Mayawati  to take to the streets but that does not detract from the genuineness of the farmers’ concern. Land rights are politically potent issues as it has been demonstrated in  Nandigram, Singur and elsewhere. Land belonging to farmers and tribals cannot be alienated arbitrarily and an increasing realisation of this will shape  governments’ and political parties’ responses in future.   Rahul Gandhi’s declaration in Orissa that he is the soldier of the tribals is another proof of that.

The Mayawati government made a mistake when it took over the land on behalf of the company building the highway. The builder should have been asked to buy 70 per cent of the land required for the highway and the government could have acquired 30 per cent after that. This would have been in accordance with the Land Acquisition Amendment Bill which has been shelved because of opposition from  Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee. The bill seeks to amend the provisions of the 1894 law which governs acquisitions. Major changes have been envisaged and there are areas of differences that need to be discussed and a consensus arrived at. A fresh legal framework for land acquisition is urgently required because of the demands on land arising from development needs. To wait for next year’s West Bengal assembly elections for consideration of the bill is being insensitive and cynical.

There is no doubt that land use patterns and laws have to change. Villages cannot remain what they are;  they have to move into non-farm economic activities and which will create wealth and job opportunities. But development should not be inhuman and extortionist as it often tends to be. A balance has to be found between the farmers’ demands and environmental needs on one hand and developmental requirements on the other. More and more land will be needed but its supply is limited. The challenge is to frame a just and equitable policy which will make land available after providing the best terms to its owners. The matter is of crucial importance and parties should eschew negative and narrow politics over it.

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