Skip to main content

New Gujarat land law triggers fears among farmers in state

By Rajiv Shah
The Gujarat Agricultural Land Ceiling (Amendment) Bill, 2015, unanimously passed in the two-day monsoon session of the Gujarat state assembly – after Congress MLAs were suspended for creating a “ruckus” – is finally beginning to get national attention. The Bill is lying with President Pranab Kumar Mukherjee, awaiting his final nod after the Gujarat governor, O.P. Kohli, sent it to Delhi for approval. According to sources, the risk-averse Kohli felt that its provisions needed “Central scrutiny”.
Gujarat Congress leaders met the President recently, asking him not give sign the Bill. They allege that it seeks to “hand over” surplus land – acquired during the land reforms days of the 1960s but lying idle since then – to industry and not to landless and marginal peasants. Taking a similar line, Gujarat-based farmer activists have begun pointing towards how the Bill seeks to do away with the Gujarat Agricultural Lands Ceiling Act, 1960, whose main purpose was to distribute surplus land to the landless across Gujarat.
Says Sagar Rabari, a senior farmers’ activist associated with the Khedut Samaj, Gujarat, “Basically an anti-zamindari measure, among those who gained the most out of [the 1960 law] were the Patels of Saurashtra, who received the surplus land which earlier belonged to the Rajput landlords”. He adds, “But thousands of acres of land even today are lying with the Gujarat government. Instead of distributing it to the 54 lakh landless workers in the state – mainly SCs, STs and OBCs – the government wants to give it to industry.”

Move linked to land acquisition strategy

Officials in the Gujarat government offer a different interpretation. A senior official involved in drafting the amendment Bill, told The Wire, “This is a total misreading. A lot of surplus land, acquired decades ago, is lying idle in the state’s urban areas too. Our only propose is to utilise this land for public purpose. It makes little sense for surplus land lying in municipal corporations and municipalities to be handed over to the landless, as you cannot have agriculture in urban areas.”
Contradicting the official, Congress spokesperson Shaktisinh Gohil read out the Gujarati version of the Bill, which specifically talks of acquiring land lying surplus “both within and outside the urban local body.”
As for the rural areas, the official says, “The only important amendment to the 1960 land ceiling Act is to acquire land coming in the way of implementing a particular industrial project, and hand over a plot of the same size within the vicinity, so that the farmer does not lose land. This is to facilitate the project to be implemented as quickly as possible.”
Yet, apprehensions remain among farmers. The Bill came close on the heels of the Modi government at the Centre dropping its “pro-industry” amendments to the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Act because of all-round opposition to it. Letting the amendments lapse, the Centre told the states states to frame their own land laws.
While several governments have already amended their land bills in order to bypass the LARR Act, 2013, Gujarat has still to move in that direction. However, critics say, Gujarat is doing this by coming up with new laws like the Gujarat Agricultural Land Ceiling (Amendment) Bill, 2015.
The preamble, for instance, says that the Bill seeks to satisfy the needs of “rapid industrialisation and urbanisation”, and also the need for utilising available surplus land for “industrial purpose or for the development thereof or for any public purpose”. The term “public purpose” has been kept vague – the Bill does not spell out who will define it, the minister, the secretary, a block-level official, or someone else.
While the Bill does say that the agriculturalist whose land would be taken away for the purpose of industrial project would be compensated with an “equivalent quantum of agricultural land in the nearby vicinity … which shall vest in the state government, free from all encumbrances”, several misgivings have arisen.

Problems with the Gujarat amendments

In an unpublished paper on the Bill, development professional Persis Ginwalla, says, “Firstly, the phrase ‘in the nearby vicinity’ is vague and can be made to mean anything, and hence can be rendered useless. Secondly, the value of land within city limits and the price of land outside city limits, even if it is an equivalent quantum, cannot be compared.”
Another amendment stipulates that the land “vested in the state government under sub-section (5) shall be deemed to have been vested under section 21 and 26, under which the land to be allotted was originally vested in the state government …”
Ginwalla says, “This means that all the earlier claims and counter claims as yet pending in a court of law would be deemed to have lapsed, and the land thus being given to the state government would be ‘without encumbrances’. The claims of the aggrieved parties, which have been delayed in the courts, would thus be voided.”
She believes, “This could be aimed at securing the financial investments of ‘influential persons’ who had (illegally) purchased such land and who are currently facing litigation. By giving away such land entangled in the courts in return for unencumbered old tenure land in the urban limits is nothing but a jackpot!”
A third amendment says, “Any land allotted either under clause (v) or (vi) of sub-section (1) of section 29, to any urban local body or any person respectively shall be of old tenure”. This amendment is said to “remove” the provision that land allocated under land reforms (new tenure) could not be sold or mortgaged without prior permission.

Favouring industry

According to Ginwalla, there is “automatic conversion to ‘old tenure’”, which means that “the premium amount for conversion is no longer payable, thus depriving the state of this revenue”. She calls this “yet another ‘subsidy’ to industry in the name of ‘growth’ and ‘development’”.
And finally there is the amendment which says that if the district collector comes to the conclusion that “the purchaser has failed to commence production of goods or providing of services within the period as specified”, the land “shall vest in the state government free from all encumbrances”, and the state government would determine what should be done of this land.
This empowers the district collector to determine the cost incurred by the industrialist in failing to use the land, and to pay such compensation to him/her. “The government is also, by law, making it mandatory for itself to ‘rescue’ a rogue industrialist”, says Ginwalla
Available facts suggest that scattered attempts to “bypass” the LARR Act, 2013, began soon after it was passed in Parliament. More recently, the Gujarat government sought to acquire land for the 900 sq km Dholera special investment region (SIR) in Ahmedabad district, proposed as a smart city along the Gulf of Khambhat, by applying the town planning law’s provision, which allows the state to corner 50% of farmers’ land in the name of building infrastructure.
While a draft “rule” which says that wherever town planning law is applied, the LARR would not apply, is pending official clearance, farmers across 22 villages of the Dholera SIR were recently served notices depriving them of 50% of the land they own in the name of infrastructure. These notices said that the Dholera SIR authorities “reserve the right” to take away the land if they do not comply with the notice by a stipulated period.

This article was first published HERE 

Comments

TRENDING

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

How lead petitioner was rendered homeless when GM mustard matter came up in SC

By Rosamma Thomas*  On January 5, 2023, the Supreme Court stayed a December 20, 2022 direction of the Uttarakhand High Court to the Indian Railways and the district administration of Haldwani to use paramilitary forces to evict thousands of poor families occupying land that belonged to the railways.  Justice AS Oka remarked that it was not right to order the bringing in of paramilitary forces. The SC held that even those who had no rights, but were living there for years, needed to be rehabilitated. On December 21, 2022, just as she was getting ready to celebrate Christmas, researcher Aruna Rodrigues was abruptly evicted from her home in Mhow Cantonment, Madhya Pradesh – no eviction notice was served, and nearly 30 Indian Army soldiers bearing arms were part of the eviction process. What is noteworthy in this case is that the records establishing possession of the house date back to 1892 – the title deed with the name of Dr VP Cardoza, Rodrigues’ great grandfather, is dated November 14

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Tax buoyancy claims when less than 4% Indian dollar millionaires pay income tax

By Prasanna Mohanty  In FY18, the last year for which disaggregated income tax data is available, only 29,002 ITRs declared income above Rs 5 crore, while Credit Suisse said India had 7.25 lakh dollar millionaires (the wealth equivalent of Rs 8 crore and above) that year. Often enough, the Centre claims that demonetization in 2016 raised tax collections, improved tax efficiency, and expanded the tax base. Now RBI Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) member Ashima Goyal has also joined their ranks, attributing the “claims” of rising tax collections in the current fiscal year to “tax buoyancy” brought by the demonetisation . Do such claims have any basis in official records? The answer is unequivocal. The budget documents show the tax-to-GDP ratio (direct plus indirect tax) increased from 10.6% in FY16 (pre-demonetization) to 11.2% in FY17, remained there in FY18 (demonetization and GST fiscals), and then fell to 9.9% in FY20. In FY22, it improved to 10.8% and is estimated to drop to 10.7% in

Cyrus Mistry, PM Modi’s brother: What do these accidents have in common? Merc!

By Rosamma Thomas*  In September 2022, in an accident at Palghar near Mumbai, Cyrus Mistry, former chairman of the Tata Group, died in a road accident . On December 28, 2022, a road accident in Mysore left one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s brothers injured. What is common in these accidents? The car that crashed into the divider on the road, in both these cases, was manufactured by “prestigious” German manufacturer Mercedes Benz. One former dealer of Mercedes Benz cars in India has been raising issues of the threat to the lives of those riding these cars for many years now. Cama Motors, among the oldest dealers of foreign cars, having started business in pre-independence India, noted over 10 years ago that Mercedes Benz was indulging in corrupt practices . The cars are currently priced between Rs 41 lakh and Rs 2.92 crore in India; few people realize that the pride of owning a Merc comes at considerable risk to life. Cama Motors carefully documented several of the flaws on a websi

Gandhian unease at Mahadev Desai book launch: Sabarmati Ashram may lose free space

By Rajiv Shah  A simmering apprehension has gripped the Gandhians who continue to be trustees of the Sabarmati Ashram: the “limited freedom” to express one’s views under the Modi dispensation still available at the place which Mahatma Gandhi made his home from 1917 to 1930 may soon be taken away. Also known as Harijan Ashram, a meeting held for introducing yet-to-be-released book, “Mahadev Desai: Mahatma Gandhi's Frontline Reporter”, saw speaker and after speaker point towards “narrowing space” in Gujarat for Gandhians (as also others) to express themselves. Penned by veteran journalist Nachiketa Desai, grandson of Mahadev Desai, while the book was planned to be released on January 1 and the meeting saw several prominent personalities, including actor-director Nandita Das, her scholar-mother Varsha Das, British House of Lords member Bhikhu Parekh, among others, speak glowingly about the effort put in for bringing out the book, exchanges between speakers suggested it should be rele

Civil rights leaders allege corporate loot of resources, suppression of democratic rights

By Our Representative  Civil rights activists have alleged, quoting top intelligence officers as also multiple international forensic reports, that recent developments with regard to the Bhima Koregaon and the Citizenship Amendment Act-National Register of Citizens (CAA-NRC) cases suggest, there was "no connection between the Elgaar Parishad event and the Bhima Koregaon violence." Activists of the Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) told a media event at the HKS Surjeet Bhawan, New Delhi, that, despite this, several political prisoners continue to be behind bars on being accused under the anti-terror the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Addressed by family members of the political prisoners, academics, as well as social activists, it was highlighted how cases were sought to be fabricated against progressive individuals, democratic activists and intellectuals, who spoke out against "corporate loot of Indian resources, suppression of basic democratic

Kerala natural rubber producers 'squeezed', attend to their plight: Govt of India told

By Rosamma Thomas   Babu Joseph, general secretary of the National Federation of Rubber Producers Societies (NFRPS) at a recent discussion at Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, explained that it is high time the Union government paid greater heed to the troubles plaguing the rubber production sector in India – rubber is a strategic product, important for the military establishment and for industry, since natural rubber is still used in the manufacture of tyres for large vehicles and aeroplanes. Synthetic rubber is now quite widespread, but styrene, which is used in making synthetic rubber and plastics, and also butadiene, another major constituent of synthetic rubber, are both hazardous. Prolonged exposure to these even in recycled rubber can cause neurological damage. Kerala produces the bulk of India’s natural rubber. In 2019-20, Kerala’s share in the national production of rubber was over 74%. Over 20% of the gross cropped area in the state is under rubber cultivation, with total

Bangladesh 'rights violations': US softens stance, fears increased clout of China, India

By Tilottama Rani Charulata*  In December 2021, in addition to the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the United States imposed sanctions on seven former and current officers of the force, alleging serious human rights violations. Benazir Ahmed and former RAB-7 commander Miftah Uddin Ahmed were banned from entering the US. RAB as an institution was also canceled the support it was getting from the US and its allies. At the same time, those under the ban have been notified of confiscation of assets held abroad. The anti-crime and anti-terrorism unit of the Bangladesh Police, RAB is the elite force consisting of members of the Bangladesh Army, Bangladesh Police, Bangladesh Navy, Bangladesh Air Force, Border Guard Bangladesh, Bangladesh Civil Service and Bangladesh Ansar, and has been criticized by rights groups for its use of extrajudicial killings and is accused of forced disappearances. The government of Bangladesh has been insisting about lifting the ban on RAB, but the US had till recen