Friday, September 11, 2015

Congress "lackadaisical": Gujarat farmer body says it failed to oppose new state land acquisition laws

Dholera region, a target of land acquisition in Gujarat
By Our Representative
In a surprise move, the powerful Gujarat farmers' body Jameen Adhikar Aandolan Gujarat (JAAG), has taken strong exception to the main opposition party in the state, Congress, for being completely “lackadaisical in discharging” its “constitutional duty” of standing farmers against the state government latest land acquisition moves.
This is for the first time that JAAG has made such a serious charge against the Congress.
Recently, JAAG emerged as perhaps the most important opponent of the special investment regions (SIRs) being set up across Gujarat, especially “rampant” land acquisition taking place in the garb of SIR by applying the town planning law. JAAG's struggle in North Gujarat two years ago forced he Gujarat government to downsize the SIR in Mandal-Bhechraji region from 46 villages to a mere eight.
More recently, the Gujarat government sought to acquire land for the 900 sq km Dholera SIR in Ahmedabad district, next to the Gulf of Khambhat, by applying the town planning law's provision, which allows the state to corner 50 per cent of farmers' land in the name of building infrastructure. JAAG's intervention has forced the authorities to put off the “backdoor” land acquisition, and stop the decision to remove Dholera SIR from the Narmada canal command area map.
The JAAG-Congress rift is particularly intriguing as it comes in in the wake of Congress' statements for land acquisition moves in the state assembly and outside. It has come against the backdrop of one of the two most important JAAG leaders, Lalji Desai, switching over to the Congress. The other important JAAG leader is Sagar Rabari. There is a distinct view that ever since Desai's exist, JAAG's campaigns against land acquisition have begun to see a lull.
A JAAG statement, forwarded to kafila.org, a left-wing blog site run from Delhi, says, while it condemned the Gujarat government for recent amendments to state land laws, it is “also mindful of the fact that the opposition (in this case the Congress) has a constitutional duty and people’s mandate to raise its voice whenever it perceives the government to be straying from its pro-people orientation.” The statement, interestingly, was not distributed to several of Gujarat's mediapersons.
JAAG's statement underlines, “The opposition Congres has a constitutional duty and people’s mandate to raise its voice whenever it perceives the government to be straying from its pro-people orientation. Sadly, we find the present Congress dispensation to be entirely laidback and lackadaisical in discharging this duty. We condemn the opposition in equal terms in failing to uphold its constitutional duty and in making the voice of the farmer, and the poor heard in the Assembly.”
JAAG's statement says that the Gujarat state assembly passed “controversial amendments” to four existing legislations – the Gujarat Tenancy and Agricultural Lands Act, 1948, te Saurashtra Gharkhed, Tenancy Settlement and Agricultural Lands Ordinance, 1949, the Gujarat Tenancy and Agricultural Lands (Vidarbha Region and Kutch Area) Act, 1958, the Gujarat Agricultural Lands Ceiling Act, 1960.”
“The thrust of all amendments in the four legislations is to make transfer of land to industry and industrialists as easy as possible and at minimum cost to the purchasing industry/industrialist by legalizing any and all (past) illegalities on their part”, the statement says, without specifying how. It adds, “Not only that, pending legal cases are also to be deemed to have lapsed, bringing into question whether the phrase ‘rule of law’ holds meaning any longer.”
The statement says, “While deciding legality/validity or otherwise of questionable transactions, the government official (Collector/Mamlatdar) have been granted arbitrary powers of the highest degree. The government is also, by law, making it mandatory for itself to ‘rescue’ a rogue industrialist who fails in his/her undertaking to put up an industry and to compensate him/her ‘adequately and appropriately’.”
While the statement refuses to point towards what are its objections to the  amendments, and whether they are meant to undermine LAA, 2013, promulgated by the previous UPA government at the Centre, it comes at a time when Niti Ayog vice-chairman Arvind Panagariya, a well-known pro-Narendra Modi economist, has asked states to make their own laws so that LAA, 2013 is set aside.
"Tamil Nadu has a different law law in place since January 5, 2015. It has been almost 7-8 months, very few people knew about it. Tamil Nadu has, in fact, amended the 2013 Act and it applies to their state," Panagariya has said in an interview to CNBC TV18. Calling LAA, 2013 “draconian” as it would take 4-5 years for acquisition for public purpose, he insisted, "Other states could follow the same strategy".
When contacted, Shaktisinh Gohil, a senior Congress leader, told Counterview that the Congress' opposition to the Gujarat amendments clearly suggest why these had been made. “We have made our position very clear. Amendments are meant to allow industrialists to acquire land, which for years has been set aside for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other weaker sections. Most of such land was acquired applying the land ceiling law, but never transferred, but now the Gujarat government wants to give it to industry on a platter”, he insisted.
The JAAG statement has been reportedly signed by veteran human rights lawyer Girish Patel, well-known social scientists Achyut Yagnik and Ghanshaym Shah, environmentalists Anand Mazgaonkar, Krishnakant and Rohit Prajapati, trade union activist Ashim Roy, women's rights activists Swati Desai and Trupti Shah, JAAG leader Sagar Rabari, among others.

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