Saturday, July 16, 2016

Ahmedabad convention on land rights begins amidst warning: "Enemy" is very strong, there's need for unity

By Our Representative
A three-day national convention on land rights began on Saturday at Ahmedabad's Gujarat Vidyapeeth, a university founded by Mahatma Gandhi, with its top speakers, politicians and activists, raising pitch in favour of “uniting” forces of different ideological persuasions in order to take the battle against “indiscriminate” land acquisition to Indian states and corporate "loot".
Held under the banner of Bhumi Bachao Andolan (BAA), the speakers – CPI-M politburo member Hannan Mollah, Anil Chaudhary of Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF), Ashok Chaudhury of the All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP), Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, and Kanu Kalsaria of the Aam Aadmi Party – agreed that under the new political dispensation it is “no more possible to fight alone.”
Held against the backdrop of aborted “efforts” of the Maharashtra government to brand the convention as a move of Naxalites to make inroads into Gujarat, Ashok Chaudhury of AIUFWP said, “This was a recognition of the strength acquired by the people's movements across India. So wary have the rulers become that they brand anyone raising voice for land rights as Naxalite.”
Warning people's movements against any effort to adopt Naxalites' tactics, Chaudhury said, “We have to fight for our rights through democratic means, because if one takes up arms, things become very for those in power to suppress any demands.
Chaudhury also called for conceptual clarity, stressing, when one talks of land rights, it is not just land but natural resources dependent on land – water, jungle and minerals – all those who are dependent on them. “We have still failed to take our fight forward, as desired”, he said.
Identifying the Narendra Modi government as “the enemy”, Mollah said, it is “very strong” and is trying to “not just become increasingly powerful in India, but also across the world by influencing the World Trade Organization, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.” He added, “Its policy is not kisan-based but corporate-based.”
Pointing towards how the overall atmosphere has changed as a result of the allegedly as a result economic reforms begun in 1991, Mollah said, “There was a time when at least court judgments used to be pro-poor. Now, this is changed. Strikes are declared illegal. Land acquisition for a national highway is allowed without consent of the affected farmers.”
Mollah said, following all-round opposition, the amendments to the Land Acquisition Act (LAA), 2013 – to drop the consent and social impact assessment clauses – may have been dropped. “But the amendments haven't been withdrawn from Parliament. States have been allowed to come up with their own laws on lines of the amendments proposed for LAA, 2013.”
Pointing out that several states – including Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Odisha – have already come up with their own laws, Mollah said, it hasn't been possible for land rights organizations to take the fight to states. “We have failed”, he admitted.
Seeking a “broader unity” keeping aside ideological considerations, Mollah's view found an echo from civil rights organizations participants. “It's a long road, and the destination is far away”, said Anil Chaudhary of INSAF, a network of large number of of people's groups.
Suggesting that people's organizations would need to work out ways to unite and fight for land rights, Chaudhary said, “People are becoming restive, but India is very large. Every week people fighting for land rights are being killed, and there is a need to keep a pace the developing situation.” 

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