LAND ACQUISITION BILL AMENDMENTS: PM Modi’s Disinformation Campaign
THE Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels launched Hitler’s fascistic propaganda blitz advancing a famous dictum which went as follows: If you tell a big enough lie, frequently enough, it becomes the truth.
Over the past few decades, it appeared that the RSS/BJP had mastered this technique. A number of instances can be listed. Take one, for instance: the entire propaganda leading to the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the campaign for the construction of a temple at that very place was orchestrated around an assertion that this exact place was where Rama was born. Any historical evidence to the contrary was brushed aside claiming this knowledge to be an `act of faith’. L K Advani’s `rath yatra’ centered around mandir wahin banayenge led eventually to the demolition of the Babri Masjid leaving behind a trail of communal bloodshed, mayhem and loot that claimed the lives of thousands of people.
Such mastery over Goebbelisian methods of propaganda is now sought to be perfected by PM Modi, may be outclassing Goebbels himself. The latest of such instances is the propaganda that has been unleashed under his leadership over the changes they wish to bring in the Land Acquisition Bill, 2013. In his, by now `compulsory’ address on the State-owned radio, mann ki baat, on March 22, he ranted that the objections raised by the combined opposition in parliament was a pack of “lies” and a part of a “conspiracy” to undermine farmer’s interests. Echoing a widespread opinion of disbelief over such a brazen campaign of disinformation, even editorials of national dailies commented to the effect that the PM’s radio address “was way too general and didn’t quite relate to the Bill presented by his government” (The Asian Age, March 24, 2015).
We leave it to the other parties who are in opposition of the Bill to defend their case and place their point of view. As far as the CPI(M) is concerned, a few weeks ago, this column listed our serious objections to the manner in which this Modi government’s ordinance, which it now wants to convert into a legislation, undermines even the minimal rights and guarantees provided by the UPA Bill. On that occasion, in 2013, the CPI(M) had moved substantial concrete amendments to further strengthen the UPA Bill. These were outvoted by the BJP joining hands with the then ruling Congress-led UPA in both houses of parliament. This was when the CPI(M), once again, charged that there was a blatant `match-fixing’ between the Congress and the BJP on most matters concerning neo-liberal economic reforms. The CPI(M) had, in fact, suggested that some provision should be there in the Land Acquisition Bill to ensure that the kisans, whose land is being acquired, will continue to receive benefits from the escalation of the land values due to the forthcoming project being constructed on these lands. Such proposals were opposed both by the Congress and the BJP.
Let’s examine the PM’s charge that the current opposition’s objections to the ordinance promulgated by his government are a pack of `lies’ and restate the CPI(M)’s position.
Is it a lie to say that the BJP had fully supported the 2013 Land Acquisition Act? If true, then why these changes now? Do these changes being made by the Modi government not suggest that PM Modi is bringing them to benefit both the foreign and domestic corporates at the expense of the already beleaguered Indian farmer? Therefore, is this not an attempt to actualise the `pay-back time’ to benefit those who liberally financed PM Modi’s electoral campaign? There are many more such questions on the motivations behind the urgency being shown by this Modi government in bringing such sweeping changes to the existing Land Acquisition law which was, ironically, fully endorsed by the BJP earlier.
Leave aside such issues. Let us consider some substantive changes that the ordinance brought by this Modi government contains. The original law stipulated a percentage of consent of the families of farmers (70 to 80 per cent) whose land is being acquired. The Modi government ordinance added a new section (10A) increasing the number in the special category that are exempt from such consent requirements – industrial corridors and infrastructure projects including projects under public-private-partnership. The government had, initially, also included `social infrastructure’ in this category, ie, private schools; private hospitals etc etc. After a hue and cry in the Lok Sabha, this is now excluded from the draft pending before the Rajya Sabha. Is this a lie, PM Modi?
The earlier law required a social impact assessment and review by expert group and defined a bar on the acquisition of multi-crop agricultural land. Have these not been removed with regard to the new five items added to the special category, Mr Prime Minister? Is it a lie that of the six conditions prescribed for the social impact assessment under the earlier law, five have been removed?
Is it a lie, Mr Prime Minister, that Section 24 (2) has been amended? This has been done to exclude the rights provided to our farmers when the land acquired has not been utilised for full five years. The earlier Bill allowed the return of the acquired land if the award had been made five or more years prior to the coming into force of the 2013 law (ie, any award passed on or before January1, 2009) provided either compensation had not been paid or physical possession had not been taken. Is this provision now not being amended, Mr Prime Minister, in favour of the corporates acquiring land and against the interests of the farmer?
Section 101 of the 2013 law stated expressly that the acquired land must be returned after five years (to the original owner or to the State Land Bank) if the land is not utilised. Is it now not being amended, Mr Prime Minister? Does this not go against the interests of the farmers? During the last week of the parliament session, the Rajya Sabha was informed in a written reply by the concerned minister that of the land acquired for special economic zones (SEZs) nearly half is lying unutilised even after five years.
Has not the Modi government amended and expanded the definition of industrial corridors to include land up to 1 kilometer on either side of the designated road or railway track for such an industrial corridor? Does this not violate the condition contained in the original Bill for social impact assessment to determine that only the bare minimum extent of land has to be acquired for the project? The importance of this can be understood by the fact that for the construction of the Yamuna Expressway, excess land on either side was acquired and then handed over to a private group dealing also with landed estates like Jaypee group in Uttar Pradesh. Is this to benefit the farmers, Mr Prime Minister?
Is it not a fact, Mr Prime Minister, that the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) with Japanese government collaboration has provided 150 kilometers on both sides of the dedicated freight corridor for “developmental needs”? Even if one kilometer on either side of national highways, state highways and railway tracks are acquired for “developmental needs”, is it not a fact that the amount of land that can be acquired works out to be a whopping 31.9 per cent of the total cultivable land available in the country? Is this a lie, Mr Prime Minister?
Is it not a fact that the protection given under the 2013 law for agricultural labour and all others whose livelihood depended on cultivation on the land has been diluted? Is it a lie, Mr Prime Minister, that instead some provision for employment has been provided only for agricultural labour and not to a wide range of landless people whose livelihood is adversely affected by such land acquisition?
We can continue in this vein. But these are sufficient to nail the lie that the viewpoint of the combined opposition is a pack of “lies” as described by the prime minister. The current ordinance brought by the Modi government containing these above noted changes will lapse during the four week recess of the budget session. No ordinance can be re-promulgated unless the parliament has been adjourned sine die. This has not happened as the parliament technically is still in session. The recess is only to facilitate all MPs to examine, in detail, the budgetary `demands for grants’ for all departments under all ministries in their respective parliamentary standing committees. The ordinance, therefore, will lapse.
Further, as noted in these columns earlier, no joint session of the parliament can be called until one house rejects a legislation approved by the other house. This is not the case today. The amended Bill adopted by the Lok Sabha because of the BJP’s exercise of its “tyranny of majority” is before the Rajya Sabha but not decided upon. The Modi’s government frustration of being unable to honour its “pay-back time” commitments to the corporate world seems to be leading the PM to spread such so-called untruths to counter the “lies” spread by the opposition.
It is in the interests of protecting our economy from completely being subjected to `crony’ capitalism and to safeguard our kisan’s – our annadaataas – livelihood and prevent them from being pushed into a further escalating pace of committing distress suicides. Popular struggles must be strengthened to bolster the parliamentary opposition to prevent such a retrograde law that ruins our kisans and, hence, Indian agriculture from being enacted.
(March 25, 2015)