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International meet in North Gujarat village: Top civil rights groups seek local solutions to regain lost land rights

By Our Representative
Agreeing that it was impossible to work out a common strategy for farmers and pastoralists to fight for land rights, participants at a meeting of the International Land Coalition (ILC), a global alliance of civil society organizations, stressed on seeking “viable local solutions” to “rampant” privatization of land taking place in different countries of Asia in the name of setting up developmental projects. The meeting was held in a North Gujarat village in Bechraji taluka, Gopnaad, where land prices have zoomed by three to four times following the top car manufacturers, Maruti-Suzuki’s decision to set up shop about 25 kilometres away.
While international participants, including those from India, debated on how privatization of land was sharply affecting food security and displacing local people, especially poor farmers and pastoralists, local farmers attending the meet said land was being bought by “interested parties” like hot cake in the area. “Land prices were just about Rs 4 to 5 lakh per bigha about two years ago. But now, they have gone up to Rs 25 lakh. Those who are interested in buying land are mainly farmers, who had sold their land in Sanand area, where the Tatas have set up their Nano plant”, said a farmer, adding, “There is no opposition to such deals.”
A senior activist from Gujarat, who was part of the organizers, Maldhari Rural Action Group (MARAG), an Ahmedabad-based civil rights group, told Counterview on the sidelines of the international meet, “While we have been able to register some success in our campaign, as seen in the Jameen Adhikar Andolan Gujarat’s (JAAG’s) effort leading to downsizing of the Mandal-Bechraji Special Investment Region from 44 villages to just eight last year, there are huge ups and downs, too. We have found that often farmers decide to give up their struggle for saving land, their only means of livelihood, once they are offered a market plus rate.”
Julio Virola
Jun Virola, representing a civil rights group in the Philippines fighting for farmers’ and fishermen’s rights against the privatization onslaught, told Counterview, “Though it is term we do not like to use, as it is coined by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an exit policy is what is needed at a time when major structural changes are taking place in most economies of Asian countries. It must take care of the interests of small farmers in the face of developmental projects by providing them with viable jobs and livelihood, which is what we advocate with our government. This is particularly important, because these structural changes from rural to urban-industrial economies are inevitable. Experience suggests that small farms are not as sustainable as large, commercial farms.”
Not all agreed with such an approach. Dinesh Rabari, who heads MARAG, told mediapersons at the end of the four-day meet, that there was a need to fight against “land grabbing” taking place in India and other countries to “safeguard the interests of vulnerable groups. Annalisa Mauro, representing the ILC’s secretariat in Rome, said that the loss of land leads to a sharp setback to food security to the vulnerable sections, adding, big foreign companies taking up projects in several Asian projects are contributing to this. Iwan Nurdin from Indonesia said, industrial projects on agricultural and pastoral lands have led to “environmental degradation”, hence they should be “opposed”.
Dinesh Rabari
While a similar view was taken by representatives from Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Indonesia and Cambodia, MARAG distributed results of survey it conducted recently in 90 villages of Gujarat suggesting that the norm, fixed by the Supreme Court two years ago, that for every 100 animals there should be 40 acres of grazing land, is not being implemented. It said, in the 90 villages surveyed, it was found that there was a shortage of 74 per cent of grazing land in villages of Lakhatrana taluka of Kutch district, 63 per cent in the villages of Shankeshwar taluka of Patan district, and 50 per cent in the villages of Patdi taluka of Surendranagar district.
Answering a question, Karishma Barua, also from the ILC’s secretariat in Rome, said participants from Bangladesh and Pakistan “failed to attend as they did not Indian visa on time”, though swiftly adding, “There was no hurdle on the part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Indian embassies in the respective countries. Only, they were intimated just a fortnight before the meeting was to begin, October 6, hence they did not have time to get the visa.”

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