Eroding Land Rights to Facilitate Land Grab Coupled with Laws to Criminalise Dissent: Hallmark of BJP Regimes

Written by Sabrangindia Staff | Published on: September 29, 2017
In 2014 itself, months after assuming power, the Modi regime tried to test the political waters by bringing in a Land Acquisition Ordinance to  overturn a 2013 Law that had, itself re-visted colonial legislation that empowered the forest official and timber mafia to exploit forest dwellers and tribals. United Opposition protest put the Modisarkar project to dis-enfrancise farmers and land holders on hold. At the Centre. Lo and behold, three states run and ruled by the BJP, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan simply passed state land legislations that took away the empowering measures of social audit, prior consent and adequate compensation.

land Rights

The long overdue Forest Rights Act had also begun, slowly to ensure that tracts of land guarded by the Forest Dweller –who also protected them against rampant de-forestation has been –in one fell stroke-rendered ineffective through an Executive Order of the Environment Ministry (then under PrakashJavdekar). The matter lies in challenge in the Supreme Court.

Brute killings in Jharkand as the state and centre collude to snatch away Tribal Land are another moot point. Similarly labour laws, hard earned have been turned back with every effort being made to informalise the barely protected formal sector.

Both the Maharashtra and Gujarat governments have also attempted enacting laws that criminalises all criticism and dissent: The Gujarat Protection of Internal Security Act (GPISA) and a similar Maharashtra Law.  Both proposed laws will in fact be tools in the hands of the states to target any individuals or movements resisting government policy or action. Opposed by civil liberties groups, this opposition needs to be actually taken to the streets so that a mass movement in defence of democracy and civil liberties, emerges. In fact this remains, at the heart, the challenge to the Indian civil liberties movement. How to ensure that democratic politics itself enshrines genuine values of civil and political liberties and economic and cultural rights.Towards that end.

These proposed laws render any and all criticism of the existing political dispensation, especially the growing rage of the minority communities and Dalits against an increasingly intolerant regime, criminal.
How did BJP ruled states subvert one of independent India’s legislative efforts--The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, (LARR) 2013. This 2013 law replaced the colonial legislation of 1894? Six BJP ruled states have rendered this legislation, a reform driven law enacted after years of pressure from movements and struggles, meaningless.
What Modi could not do in Parliament, the states ruled by the BJP did in their states.But following the failure of the BJP government’s efforts to amend it through its land ordinances issued after 2014, six states have used constitutional provisions to make new laws. Other states have developed rules under the Act to dilute the rights of landowners and land dependent people in the face of land acquisition.
What the Modi government failed to do in early 2015, bring in a fresh law that in the name of making ‘land acquisition’ easier actually snatched away the original owner –be it the peasant, small farmer or tenants –right to have a say in whether or not the land should be acquired—the Gujarat Government, known for its infamous ‘Gujarat Model’ under NarendraModi did in April 2016 through the “Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Gujarat Amendment) Bill, 2016” (RFCTLARR, 2016), just recently passed, in the Assembly.
On April 1, 2016, deliberately on a day when the Opposition had been suspended from the House, the  Government of Gujarat (GOG), passed the “Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Gujarat Amendment) Bill, 2016”. A copy of the Bill, can be read here.
Jharkand erupted in conflict last year (July-November) as amendements in laws were pushed through to dilute the say of peoples and communities over what could or should be done with their lands.

It is BJP ruled States that Have Done Away with ‘Consent’ clause
The social audit provisions and consent by gram sabha were the two hallmarks of the amended 2013 LARR. States have diluted these by putting exceptions to state laws and rules when land acquisition needs to abide by these conditions. The seeking of consent of 70% (for PPP) and 80% (for private projects) of the landowners before acquiring their land was included in the law to address issues of land grab by the state: an individual’s home, farm or occupational right could be grabbed by merely issuing a notice. The provision of social audit is crucial to address the impacts of acquisition on the livelihoods of all those who don’t own land but are dependent on it. This is also crucial for comoensation and rehabilitation packages.

These provisions now stand diluted: In Jharkhand, for example, the quorum for seeking consent from the gram sabha has been reduced from half to one-third.

GujaratRajasthan, MaharashtraJharkhand and Telangana have enacted new laws using Article 254(2) of the constitution by seeking presidential assent. Barring Telangana, all are BJP-ruled states. Their laws replicate or reflect the key amendments proposed in the 2014 ordinance. Gujarat and Telangana exempt a long list of projects from social impact assessment (SIA) and mandatory consent of landowners. These include projects of national security, defence, rural infrastructure, affordable housing, industrial corridors and other infrastructural projects, including projects under public-private partnerships (PPPs). In Maharashtra, PPP projects have been fully exempted from the SIA and consent clauses.

Why does ‘mainstream media not consistently showcase these dilutions?
Media and Corporate Capital  
In aninterview with P. Sainath in September 2014 (to Teesta Setalvad( he explained this phenomenon, “Convergence between Parliament, Big Business and Media: The interview also explores the complete domination of Indian Parliament by “more than millionaires” [the 2014 Indian Parliament has 353 of the 545 Members of Parliament worth Rs 10 million; when the last Parliament – 2009—had only 145 MPs worth Rs 10 million] lyand in turn these very individuals ( and their corporate business interests owning controlling shares in media). This enjoys a rare convergence, hitherto unparalleled that was witnessed in the brazen corporate campaign to spearhead Modi to power in 2014. (Sainath to Setalvad)”
There is a stranglehold on free thought, expression, association that is, most dangerously of all being constructed by this unholy nexus.
The most exacting challenge of all, then the re-emergence of a genuinely democratic real media.