Wednesday, May 6, 2015

India’s Farm Land Acquisition Act: Bonanza for Rulers & their Financiers

India has a long history of its ruler’s fascination with Farm Land and Forest Land. Whether it was ancient Kings or Mughal or British invaders turn rulers as well as the current rulers after independence; every one has been robing the farmers of their Land in broad day light by giving excuses that they are doing it for the sake of development. Still India is a country of 1.35 billion, where 665 mil Indians practice open defecation against 37 mil defecate in open in China. In fact India has the world’s largest army of 85 million child labor out of 830 million poor living in dire poverty.  India’s elite world famous billionaires part of the 56 million filthy rich Indians are living side by side with almost a billion poor and treat them as sub humans who are burden for the country. A  former diplomat, politician, author and thinker Pavan Varma wrote in his book “Being Indian” that in the Indian elite “there is a remarkable tolerance for inequality, filth and human suffering”. He adds that “concern for the deprived and the suffering is not a prominent feature of the Indian personality. The rich in India have always lived a life quite oblivious to the ocean of poverty around them”. Less than 10-15 minutes from every slum in any major city of India there are very expansive heavily guarded residential areas with houses rather mini palaces costing few million dollars to $1 Billion Mukesh Ambani’s Palace. One city: two universes.
India’s Land Acquisition Act was enacted in 1894 by British rulers; it gave unlimited power to the government to acquire any land. The Act allowed governments all over India to acquire land from the public. After independence India adopted the same L.A. Act and no one bothered to make any changes in it because it was an easy way for the politicians and corporations to make money. The only person who lost money and livelihood was the individual and their families whose land was being acquired. Rather in 1985 the language added was to make it easier for politicians and corporate to take over land at throw away prices. “Whenever it appears to the [appropriate Government] the land in any locality [is needed or] is likely to be needed for any public purpose [or for a company], a notification to that effect shall be published in the Official Gazette [and in two daily newspapers circulating in that locality of which at least one shall be in the regional language], and the Collector shall cause public notice of the substance of such notification to be given at convenient places in the said locality.” Practically for 66 years from 1947 to 2013 every government/political party in center as well as all the states chose not to do anything and has been using this as source to generate black money to fight elections. It was only in 2013, the Congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) brought in “The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013. Although this also has some major flaws but it was the first time that some one thought of protecting the farmers, tribal and landless poor. Unfortunately UPA could not implement this law and 2014 Modi government was installed at the center by the corporate world.
Corporations and politicians all these years in day light robbery after taking over Farm Land at throw away prices have been getting the “Land Use” changed over night and land becomes 1,000 to 10,000 times more in worth. Then the scam of acquiring Panchayat Land or Shamlat Land that is owned by the entire village marked for animal grazing especially for marginal farmers and landless owners of few animals has been going on for over a century. This is done by the prospective buyer with bribes to Patwari’s, Gram Panchayat members, Nayab Tehsildar, Tehsildar, DC, Gramin Mantri, Judges in case if a villager approach for stay and off course the Chief Minister of the State who gets his/her share before any one else and only than there are verbal orders issued to go ahead with the project. Now after acquiring the Farm Land to get its “Land Use” changed the buyer once again pay bribes to CM, DC, Urban Minister, Judges in case if environmentalist or villagers approach the court for stay besides the usual development charges as per the government notification for that particular area. Farm Land has always been the biggest money source rather black money for every ruling party in every state. If a serious investigation is done one can find how the real estate companies came into existence and some of the famous 5 star hotels, resorts, malls, luxury Farm houses and residential complexes were built on Farm Land as well as Shamlat or Panchayat Land. The worst part is the farmers and their family members who used to own this land are now working as Gardner, Watchman, Cleaners, cooks and Drivers in these properties.

The Forest Land on which millions of people specially tribal and landless villagers depend for their survival by collecting minor wild oil seeds, herbs, fruits and flower is much easier to acquire. Bribe all the concerned politicians, bureaucrats, Judges and environmentalist and get the land for few paise per year per yard lease for 99 years, no need to buy and spend money on stamp papers etc.!
Every central and state government prior to the current one in India always used to think covertly (behind closed doors) that it owns the country’s resources. That is the reason we had numerous scams under Congress, Janta Party and BJP governments and their allies. But this time BJP that has come to rule the country at the Center as a single party with a massive majority for any party  after 30 years is openly sending a message that they own the resources. This is wrong for a Democracy, BJP must understand that "Country’s resources belong to the people and the Land owned by Farmers must remain with the farmers.” Let them decide in a transparent frame work what is to be done with the resources in the best interest of the country and majority of its citizens not the 1% that owns the politicians and are trying to take over the country.

The politicians always raise the bogey of land for public use, power and defense also. These are misleading claims with criminal intent to rob the farmers. The public use to make road and bridges government earn vehicle road tax and toll tax  to offset the cost of land and construction. For Power Plants that has now come in private sector also the operator is going to make big profits by selling energy to the consumers. Defense is a multi billion dollar industry with very high profit margins that should not be provided land at subsidized rates. The Indian Industrial houses Reliance, Adani, Tata, Jindal, Ruia’s etc has unprecedented political access and power. All these corporations unlike East India Company do not have their private army but soon will be making all kinds of war heads, missiles, helicopters, air planes, ammunition and other sophisticated military gadgets because BJP’s FM Arun Jaitley has increased the FDI limit to 49% from 26% for this Industry. Just few days before the budget Middleman/Lobbyist has been legalized in India for deals with the government including defense deals. Now there won’t be any shortage of Radia’s openly operating in the corridors of power to influence law makers for favors for their corporate clients. Do these multi-billionaires really need to be given Land at a subsidized rate there should be an open public debate on this issue.

Even after Congress party’s catastrophic defeat in 2014 due to rampant corruption and massive scams the country’s crony capitalists are unlikely to suffer as a result. The nexus between business and politics is as tight as it has ever been. BJP spent Rs 32,000 crore to bring Narendra Modi to power with massive corporate donations. BJP is estimated to have spent at least Rs 6,200 crore on print and broadcast advertising alone. Of these donations, around 90% comes from unlisted corporate sources who will be rewarded when the times comes. May be under Land Acquisition Act it is pay back time for BJP to its financial supporters with cheap Land besides the Rs. 62,398.6 crore for 2014-2015, the revenue government is expected to forego because of exemptions and deductions given to corporates. Modi’s FM Jailey’s is bringing down the Corporate Tax from 30 per cent to 25 per cent in the next four years. In USA where the corporate Tax is 35% according to CAG ; US Corporation’s effective rate of tax was 12.1% in 2011 that is 40 years low. If the effective rate in USA is 12.1% in India it has to be under 10% or in some cases 0 because Indian Corporations are more innovative; they get subsidized loans, land, electricity, break on all kinds of taxes including custom, excise, dividend tax and can book their profits in foreign countries by over invoicing or under invoicing and route it back through government approved Mauritius route. Besides plethora of credits and deductions in tax code they buy super luxury cars, luxury homes & farm houses, air planes, yachts and expansive holidays abroad in their corporation’s name for their personal, family, executive and for the use of politicians and top bureaucrats.Interestingly, the bigger the corporate the more deductions and exemptions they take.!

The current ruler PM Modi who got elected on the slogan of “Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas” (Every one’s support will bring progress to every one). If this slogan was not an election rhetoric and PM Modi aka BJP has any honesty than they must pay the Farmer according to the proposed “End Use” of their Land i.e. industrial or housing or office complex or Hotel/Amusement Parks or  public or power or defense use.  Whatever is the price of industrial or residential or Commercial land price is in the vicinity; the government can deduct development charges and 15-20% handling charges and their profit. PM Modi must understand the government has no business in a Democracy to rob the farmers and give their land at subsidized prices to billionaire industrialist. The provision of  social and economic impact assessment, environment and consent requirement that 80 percent of the affected landowners must agree to a sale must be incorporated in Land Acquisition Bill. On top of that the price to be paid to the Farmers must be based on the “End Use” of the Land being acquired.

PM Modi has been going to every country in the world and telling investors: "Come to India, Make in India" we will give you cheap land and labor'. PM Modi is telling the truth to them after robing the farmers of their land, the farmers and their family members have no choice but to become cheap laborers for his financial supporters aka MNC’s and local industrial houses. 

It was pathetic to see what Congress has been doing to the Farmers in Budget after Budget; PM Modi’s FM Jaitley has maintained the same status quo. Jaitley has Rs 4,65,277 crore only even after taking Rs 5,55,649 crores in new loans to service his/Modi’s so called growth plans for a population of 120 crore out of that 52% are farmers. He has allocated a princely sum of Rs 25,000 crore in Rural Development Fund for 62 crore farmers. That works out to be Rs 403 per farmer or Rs 2,015 if you take average size of the family 5 members in one year or Rs 167.92 per family per month provided there is no corruption. Out of the 12 crore hectare farming land only 5 crore hectare has irrigation facility rest 7 crore hectare depends on Mother Nature God; if there is timely rain the farmer will have a crop,  if the rain is delayed by a month or no rain whatever input including his labor the farmer has put in will go waste. On irrigation and flood control Jaitley has allocated Rs 5,300 crore that works out to be Rs 757 per hectare per year, provided there is no corruption, It is a shame even after 67 years after independence there is no irrigation facility for the farmer.

The government brags about Rs 70,000 crore subsidy to the farmers where as the fact is it is given to big corporations for the sale of poisonous fertilizer and pesticides to ruin the health of the farmers and consumers as well as to ruin the soil. In 2007 there was 17 crore hectare of farming land vs 12 crore hectare now. The 5 crore hectare land was given to big corporations under Special Economic Zones and other projects. Jaitley has made it very clear that this process will continue and now we have Japanese bullet train project also. It cannot be disputed that infrastructure improvements are vital if growth is to be inclusive. The question is, what types of infrastructure will be developed or investment undertaken, and who will benefit as a result. All indications are Rs 20,000 crore spending on infrastructure will not improve things for ordinary people, but instead may intensify dispossession and displacement as well as theft of resources that has already been occurring in the country under the guise of industrial corridors, Tech Cities, Luxury housing, Office Complex, Malls and SEZs, etc.
It looks like from Congress to BJP nothing has changed and going to change for the main street of India. It is business as usual; Mughal or British style perks for Politicians especially battalion of Ministers, nexus between politicians and corporations, undue economic favors to corporations etc. have become the hall mark of Modi government. On top of that the sinister agenda of fanatic Hindus in BJP & its allied parties VHP, Shiv Sena & RSS etc.; Ghar vapasi (conversion to Hinduism), Gai(Ban Cow slaughter in entire India), Godse (personification of the killer of Mahatma Gandhi) and Ganga (undue obsession) also has the silent support of Modi government. Modi said his government's decisions are guided by national interest (rashtra-neeti) and not politics (rajneeti).  How all the above qualifies in the “National Interest?” It is to be seen how long the so called high growth of India attained on the shoulders of poor, farmers and lower middle class can sustain. The day is not too far for a bloody class and caste war between the 99% have not’s and the 1% rich and clashes between Hindus and non-Hindus because of glaring economic inequalities and sinister fanatic Hindu agenda that may break India.  

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