Q&A: ‘NDA’s move to amend the land bill is devoid of justice’

‘Issue of food security of so many people is linked to land and needs to be looked into’

Q&A with Ashwani Mahajan

Having opposed the contentious Land Acquisition Amendment Bill, Dr Ashwani Mahajan, all India co-convenor of the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, tells Manish Anand that the SJM cannot agree to the bill proposal in the current form and that the consent of farmers, along with a social impact assessment, are areas on which the NDA needs to listen to wider concerns.


The Swadeshi Jagran Manch has opposed the amendments to the land acquisition bill in its submission to the select panel of Parliament. Why are you opposed to the bill when the party heading the government is part of your larger ideological family?

We have been opposing the amendment to the land bill ever since the first ordinance was promulgated. The government’s move to amend the land bill is devoid of justice as it dilutes the provisions of mandatory consent of farmers, social impact assessment and food security. This cannot be ignored.

The government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have spelt out reasons against the consent clause — that it would simply make acquiring land impossible.

If land is required for projects of national importance, it must be made available immediately. We do not mind the consent clause being not enforced in defence and nuclear power projects. But how can farmers not have a say in other projects? How can the government justify that? As far as delay in acquiring land is concerned, the government has to find ways. It should ask the bureaucracy to be more efficient and also stick to a timeline.

So you are demanding that the clause of mandatory consent of 80 per cent of owners for private projects and the consent of 70 per cent landowners for PPP projects for non-defence and non-nuclear power projects be added.

We are not particular about the quantum of consent required. We would be amenable to the idea of majority consent too i.e. it will be fine if 51 per cent of the landowners give their consent. But the farmers giving their land must be consulted and their consent taken. Also, it’s wrong to believe that the farmers would not part with land as they have done in the past. The Bhoodan Andolan is an example.

What are your views on the social impact assessment and food security aspect of the Land Acquisition Amendment Bill?

How is it possible that you acquire land without assessing the social impact? The impact of land acquisition on people’s livelihood and environment must be known. This will decide how to address the issue at hand. Besides, India has just 2.5 per cent of the world’s land mass, but supports 17 per cent of the global population. Therefore, the issue of food security of so many people is linked to land and needs to be looked into. The acquisition of multi-cropped, irrigated land should be the last recourse. Instead of being vague, the bill has to specifically state that fertile, multi-cropped and irrigated land would not be acquired until there is no other option.

Are you hopeful that the government will be open to your concerns?

The first land amendment bill brought by this government after issuing an ordinance included nine amendments. The government seems open to the idea of accommodating these concerns. We are hopeful that the government will address the issues that we have highlighted.

The NDA government is pursuing foreign direct investment in defence in a big way and is quite keen to source defence equipment from abroad rather than have them manufactured locally.

We, as a matter of ideology, are opposed to the whole idea of FDI. The nation can’t be built by outsiders… the whole idea that FDI is panacea to all ills is quite misplaced. The outgo in payments — which includes royalty, interest and others — were mere $4.3 billion in 1993-94. By 2013-14 it was to the tune of $34.4 billion. So we have a situation where the outgo is more than the FDI inflow in a year. These, incidentally, are the figure of the Reserve Bank of India.
As far as FDI in defence is concerned, we believe that it should be on a case-to-case basis in order to meet India’s immediate security requirements. But, overall, we have been asking the Indian defence manufacturers to form a consortium and scale up their production backed by modernisation.

The NDA government hiked FDI in insurance to 49 per cent.

Ever since FDI in insurance has come, premiums have gone up along with rates of policy lapses and forfeiture. The quantum of FDI in insurance is also quite insignificant but has led to massive distress.

You seem to be on the same page as communists as far as your views on the economy are concerned.

Yes, the communists also oppose FDI, but the SJM is different when it comes to the way the economy should be handled. According to the Left, the entire business should be handled by the government and its various arms. We say that even small businessmen are proletariat. This was stated in the correspondence between Lenin and Marx but has been conveniently disowned by the Left. We advocate that the ease of doing business should be such that enterprises flourish. And, hence, we are with the government on its idea of Mudra Bank for those who have no access to banking instruments. We are all for financial inclusion.

( Source : deccan chronicle )
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