प्रधानमंत्री मनमोहन को अखिलेंद्र प्रताप की चिट्ठी

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To, The Prime Minister, Government of India, New Delhi, Dear Shri Manmohan Singhji, The Land Question is haunting the Indian polity. No amount of obfuscation and tinkering on the part of the central and the state governments has been able to exorcise it. It is raising its head again and again right on the outskirts of the capital. And the violent protests are spreading fast in Western UP.

It has been appearing and reappearing in various parts of India. The protests against inadequate compensation for the land acquired for different projects; the struggles against the SEZs in different states; the militant resistance to land appropriation by big capital in Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand , Orrisa and West Bengal; the seething discontent against  large-scale dispossession of the only means of livelihood  of the rural poor all over the country and consequent forced migration of the pauperized rural people to the urban slums;  the continuing stagnation in the agrarian sector; and large scale peasant suicides and massive malnutrition, particularly of  mothers and children -  are but different manifestations of the Land Question.

The response of the government has been too little and too late. The belated move to amend the Land Acquisition Act of 1894, an out- and- out colonial legacy, is the typical example. The proposed amendment is not the answer to the question we are facing. A little more compensation based on the so-called prevailing market rate does not solve the basic issue. Nor does the proposed formula of 30:70 in regard to the land to be acquired by the government for the corporate sector. The rub lies in the loosely defined “public purpose”. A phrase like “development of infrastructure” is too vague and too wide and it will legitimize all kinds of proposals for land acquisition, particularly so because such projects are being encouraged systematically through the policy of “ public-private participation”. No amount of compensation, nor a legal provision of a rehabilitation plan will recompense the loss of livelihood of the peasants whose only means of livelihood is land. Similar is the lot of other rural sections dependent on agricultural or pasture- land so acquired.

The dramatic drop in total cultivated area in the country from 12.50 crore hectares to 10.70 crore hectares during the period 1992 to 2003  ,total cultivated area in the country that is to say, in the first decade of the neo-liberal economic reforms is a telling comment on the anti-peasant policies pursued by the government. The market forces and the governments have together scripted and enacted this tragic saga of ‘accumulation by dispossession’. It is as much an unfolding of the process of decimation of peasantry as it is a warning signal on the food security front.

The resolution of the Land Question in all its aspects will require fundamental structural changes in our economy. We wish, however, to underline here some basic issues that arise in the context of the Land Acquisition Act 1894 and its proposed amendment and demand immediate action on specific measures:

The Land Acquisition Act 1894 and similar other laws in the States are fundamentally flawed in that they are founded in the doctrine of “ Eminent Domain”; they define “public purpose loosely, thereby giving legitimacy to Questionable role of the government as facilitator and agent of private companies and businesses; they violate the Constitutional and legal protection available to Adivasis and forest dwellers in respect of their land and habitat; they  fail to make consent of Gram Sabha a  necessary condition for any acquisition or transfer; and they fail to recognize that the provision of a decent , alternative livelihood to all those whose livelihood is threatened by any acquisition/transfer of land must be a pre-condition for such acquisition or transfer.

Therefore, We Demand:

The LAND ACQUISITION  ACT  of 1894 and similar other laws , including the notorious SEZ Act  BE REPEALED. AN IMMEDIATE FREEZE  be announced on transfer of all agricultural, forest, mining and common land to the Corporate Sector. Any transfer of agricultural land to non-agriculturists, in general, and to foreigners and NRIs , in particular, be prohibited immediately. Pending the formulation of a radical new policy in regard to land acquisition/transfer for non-agricultural purposes , only consensual acquisition/transfer of land  for specifically stated social purpose be allowed with the consent of the concerned Gram Sabha and with  the provision of alternative and decent livelihood for all those being displaced and /or those  whose livelihood  is threatened as a result of such acquisition /transfer.

We further DEMAND that

A National Land Use Commission be set up to formulate a comprehensive , people-centric , ecology-friendly, region-specific and scientific land –use policy  which will be oriented to the objective of de-commodifying land and which will provide  food security, biological diversity  and promote the well-being and solidarity of all those whose livelihood depends on land.

Date: 20/05/2011

With regards,

Akhilendra Pratap Singh

National Convener

Jan Sangharsh Morcha