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Economy Aug 22, 2012

'Govt is trying to fool people with new land acquisition bill'

By Arlene Chang

New Delhi: The National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) -- of which social activist Medha Patkar is the national convenor -- organised a protest at Jantar Mantar, against the new land acquisition bill which is expected to be tabled in Parliment later this month.

NAPM held the dharna in the capital in association with several other land rights and anti-displacement movements -- like the National Forum of Forest people and Forest workers -- under the banner of 'Sangharsh', a platform which since 2007 has comprised various peoples movements and organisations fighting anti- people policies.

While welcoming the decision of the government to repeal the Land Acquisition Act of 1984, NAPM was protesting the government's indifference in incorporating its suggestions in the newly proposed bill.

Reuters

The public meeting and dharna organised at Jantar Mantar on the occasion of the Monsoon session of the Parliament challenged the government to try and pass the Bill in the current form. "The bill will face the same fate as that of the LAA (Land Acquisition Act) Amendments Bill that UPA-1 tried to pass in Rajya Sabha in 2009", Madhuresh Kumar, National Organiser of NAPM said.

It has also said that while the Bill claims it will ensure -- in concert with local institutions of self-government and Gram Sabhas -- a humane, participative, informed, consultative and transparent process for land acquisition, no regional or state consultations were held by the Ministry for Rural Development as was strongly suggested by NAPM and many other land rights organisations. The organisation however accepted that the ministry had sought comments and suggestions through its website for 30 days.

In a statement, Sangharsh, the umbrella body under which NAPM was protesting said: "The Bill has no doubt sought comments and suggestions through the website but limited only till 30 days, as no regional or state consultations were held by Ministry for Rural Development as was strongly suggested by NAPM, NFFPFW and many other organisations across the country. This is a kind of disrespect shown to a large number of organisations and millions of people engaged not only in conflict over the issues of land, water, forest, minerals or aquatic wealth but also proposing a new, truly democratic, just and sustainable 'Development Planning Act' as an alternative since years."

"The UPA Government is trying to fool both the parliament and the people of India, by bringing on the 'Right to fair compensation, R&R and transparency in Land Acquisition Bill, 2012'", added Dr. Sunilam of Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, one of the participating organisations at the morcha.

The group was also disenchanted with the Ministry of Rural Development for not taking cognizance of strong positions taken by the Standing Committee on critical issues, choosing instead to either dilute or reject them.

The group had, among other things, demanded that there be no forcible acquisition of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes, no forcible acquisition for private or for PPP projects which cannot be categorized as public purpose projects, the return of unutilised land to land owners if it is not used after 5 years from the date of possession, and a separate act for the urban displaced.

The Ministry of Rural Development has partly accepted some of these suggestions such as curbs on the acquisition of multiple crop land, as well as another that agrees to return land if it has not been used for five years (but with the rider of being returned to the state land bank and not to the land owner). However it has rejected others like no forcible acquisition for private or PPP projects, which cannot be categorized as public purpose projects, with a provision that consent of 80% of project affected people will be sought before acquisition for any private projects

"The Ministry of Rural Development is ridiculing the lives and struggles of people of this country whose fight has been to protect their precious land and resources and not for 'better compensation", NAPM's National Organiser, Madhuresh Kumar said.

At a convention in Bhubneshwar last month, Medha Patkar, had said that the Centre was being pressured by corporatesto make the Land Acquisition Bill compatible to their interests. "We need an act on land rights Act, not on land acquisition. People have become victims of forceful land acquisition. We should not allow forceful land acquisition anymore," the Times of India quoted her as saying.

She also criticised rural development minister for his support to the draft bill. "It should not be called Rural Development Ministry but Rural Destruction Ministry," Patkar had told reporterson 7 August. On another occasion she told the Deccan Herald newspaper that "The ministry headed by Ramesh is supposed to protect the interest of farmers. Instead, it is protecting the interest of corporates".Patkar was scheduled to give a speech at the dharna in Delhi on Monday, but she was unable to make it as her mother took to being seriously ill, forcing her to change her plan and head to Mumbai.

The bill which was originally called the 'Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill' is expected to be tabled in Parliment this monsoon session.

by Arlene Chang

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