October 25, 2015

Fight Corporate Land Grab and Plunder of Resources

THE All India Kisan Sabha, in a statement issued on October 17, has condemned the blatant efforts of the BJP government in Gujarat to facilitate corporate land-grab and provide legal sanction to illegal land transactions. Amendments to Gujarat Agricultural Lands Ceiling Act and Gujarat Tenancy and Agricultural Lands Law will lead to drastic alteration of land use and surplus government land can now be allotted to corporates on the pretext of “public purpose”. It is also to be noted that millions of people across India have been for generations earning their livelihood by cultivating small holdings in what would be technically termed as “government surplus land”. Rather than identify and regularise such poor peasants and ensure land rights for the landless the BJP government is aiming to transfer land meant for poor landless to the rich. The Agricultural Lands Ceiling Act which was meant to distribute surplus land to the landless poor is now being amended to include allotment for industrial purposes or for any “public purpose”. Significantly, there is no definition of “public purpose” in the Amendment Bill. This leaves ample scope for potential land use change across large tracts of land including fertile cultivable land for a wide range of activities. In the name of “rapid industrialisation and urbanisation” the government surplus land is proposed to be transferred to urban local bodies which in turn can allot land to corporates. Such lands could now be sold or mortgaged and there will not be any mandatory conversion or need of paying a premium to the revenue department for land use change. The amendments to The Gujarat Tenancy and Agricultural Lands Law would allow companies to offer its equity shares as part or full payment in lieu of agricultural land purchased. The amendments also reinforce the Modi government’s provision in the shelved Land Acquisition Ordinance which sought to allow land to remain unutilised for a long period. It gives blanket powers to the district collector to extend up to 10 years the time for beginning production or service. On the pretext of inability to start production within this extended period, the corporate houses will be allowed to transfer or sell land. This will promote real estate speculation and sale of land got cheaply at inflated rates. There is no provision for returning the land back to the land owner or for redistribution to the landless. Farmers and other dependents on land would have no proper rehabilitation and resettlement. Another controversial amendment to the Tenancy and Agricultural Land Law literally allows for legalising illegal land transactions by paying 10 percent of the market rate of the land as specified in the government document called Jantri. It also opens the floodgates for treating as legal the purchase of agricultural land illegally by non-agriculturists. Any person willing to pay that 10 percent for ill-gotten agricultural property can in effect be treated as equivalent to a farmer. It would put an end to any possibility of legal recourse for the farmers or original owners of land. All present and prospective legal disputes are sought to be put an end to by this one-sided amendment favouring the rich. After being forced to withdraw the Land Acquisition Ordinance at the centre in the wake of united struggles, the BJP is resorting to legislations in states to rob the poor and landless by facilitating land grab and plunder of common property resources. This effort to give legal sanction for corporate loot will be defeated through united movement. AIKS calls upon all democratic sections to rise up in protest against such moves.