Wolf in sheep skin

Like its other poli­cies, the BJP gov­ern­ment's Land Ac­qui­si­tion Or­di­nance favours in­dus­try at the cost of farm­ers


NDA's Land Bill favours in­dus­try while seen to be sup­port­ing farm­ers

IT TAKES gall to say that the land ac­qui­si­tion law benefits the poor. And farm­ers and the marginalised. But then, Naren­dra Modi would not be where he is if he did not have gall, and the gift of dem­a­gogy to con­vince the masses that even the most re­gres­sive poli­cies and projects of his party are ei­ther in na­tional in­ter­est or for the ben­e­fit of the poor.

bjp’s Right to Fair Com­pen­sa­tion and Trans­parency in Land Ac­qui­si­tion, Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and Re­set­tle­ment (Amend­ment) Or­di­nance, pro­mul­gated for the sec­ond time be­cause no other party would back the Modi gov­ern­ment’s ver­sion of it, is pos­si­bly the most de­tested piece of leg­is­la­tion in re­cent his­tory.But a determined bjp even pro­rogued the Ra­jya Sabha to en­able the Pres­i­dent to pro­mul­gate the or­di­nance once again—all to help farm­ers.

Which is rather odd be­cause the farm­ers are dead against it. Thou­sands of them have poured into Delhi at least thrice this year, camp­ing in the cap­i­tal for days on end to get the rul­ing party to lis­ten to their con­cerns. Thou­sands more have ral­lied across the coun­try to stop the leg­is­la­tion. But none of this has moved the Prime Min­is­ter or his Cabi­net—we will never learn if his min­is­ters dif­fer with him—and it is a res­o­lute bjp that plans on get­ting the or­di­nance through Par­lia­ment. Never mind the po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion to it or the protests of the mil­lions who are in one way or the other in­volved with agri­cul­ture.

Is this in­sen­si­tiv­ity on the part of the gov­ern­ment? It would be un­fair to say it doesn’t care or re­spond with alacrity to the pain of the peo­ple.Its heart does bleed—for in­dus­try and the rich. Here’s just one ex­am­ple. A few days ago, the Fi­nance Min­istry had an­nounced that this year’s in­come-tax re­turns would seek de­tails of for­eign vis­its made by the tax­payer along with de­tails of the money spent abroad. Also, the tax­payer would have to fur­nish the com­plete list of bank ac­counts held by him/her along with the bal­ance in the ac­counts.

Th­ese are not un­rea­son­able de­mands. Yet, mur­murs of an­noy­ance from the busi­ness class prompted an im­me­di­ate re­think by the min­istry.So the forms, it turns out, will not ask in­con­ve­nient ques­tions in or­der to “sim­plify the process” and the rich would not need to come clean on un­ac­counted funds.

But on the land ac­qui­si­tion law there will be no retreat. Af­ter all, it is eas­ier to bully the weak than to an­tag­o­nise the rich. Re­mem­ber, it is in­dus­try that has been lob­by­ing for changes in the 2013 Land Ac­qui­si­tion Act be­cause of its re­stric­tive pro­vi­sions. Not that all was fine with the law passed by the Congress-led upa regime. That law was not kind to the farmer, but it was tough on in­dus­try. bjp’s or­di­nance makes the rules much kin­der to in­dus­try by mak­ing them more un­just to the farmer. Three crit­i­cal changes in the or­di­nance make it so: land ac­qui­si­tion no longer needs the farmer’s con­sent; there is no need for so­cial im­pact as­sess­ment for many projects; and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion is to be gov­erned by the 13 Acts un­der which the gov­ern­ment ac­quires land.

Some time back, Fi­nance Min­is­ter Arun Jait­ley had de­clared that “gov­ern­ments must act with de­ter­mi­na­tion. They must have the de­sire to im­ple­ment de­ci­sions”. The se­lec­tive de­ter­mi­na­tion must have been prompted by the gen­eral un­hap­pi­ness of the in­dus­try lobby which, with the hon­ourable ex­cep­tion of Ratan Tata, has been rather crit­i­cal of Modi’s in­abil­ity to kick start the econ­omy.

But never doubt that the or­di­nance is be­ing brought in to help the be­lea­guered In­dian farmer. As the prime min­is­ter said, all de­ci­sions were taken solely “for the wel­fare of the poor”. Only “per­verted minds” in the me­dia would ques­tion that.


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