In­dian farm­ers protest gov’t plans to ease land ac­qui­si­tion


Tens of thou­sands of flag-wav­ing farm­ers ral­lied in In­dia’s cap­i­tal Sun­day to protest a gov­ern­ment plan to ease rules for ob­tain­ing land for in­dus­try and devel­op­ment projects.

Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi has said ex­ist­ing rules, es­tab­lished in 2013 to pro­tect land own­ers from land grab­bing and forced re­lo­ca­tion, were cre­at­ing ob­sta­cles that were spook­ing in­vestors. He and industrial lead­ers say the rules should be sim­pli­fied to en­tice for­eign busi­ness and boost man­u­fac­tur­ing in In­dia.

Modi passed an ex­ec­u­tive or­der in De­cem­ber do­ing away with some of the rules. The uni­lat­eral move up­set op­po­si­tion par­ties and rights groups that had long fought for legal safe­guards on land ac­qui­si­tion, and they vowed to fight any ef­fort to make the changes per­ma­nent af­ter the or­der ex­pired ear­lier this month.

Rights ac­tivists, la­bor unions and many among In­dia’s hun­dreds of mil­lions of farm­ers say the changes ef­fec­tively tram­ple the rights of the poor. They ac­cuse Modi of cater­ing to cor­po­rate in­ter­ests, and worry chang­ing the law will leave them vul­ner­a­ble to poor com­pen­sa­tion packages or forced re­lo­ca­tion from an­ces­tral lands.

“With the sin­gle-minded agenda of kneel­ing be­fore the cor­po­rates ... this gov­ern­ment has shown that it sim­ply does not care for the poor and toiling peo­ple, for our land, agri­cul­ture and na­ture,” the Na­tional Al­liance of Peo­ple’s Move­ments said in a state­ment.

The op­po­si­tion Congress party — in power when the 2013 law was passed — has seized on the is­sue as it strug­gles to re­pair its po­lit­i­cal im­age fol­low­ing its stunning elec­tion de­feat last year to Modi and his Hindu na­tion­al­ist Bharatiya Janata Party. Both Gandhi fam­ily scion Rahul and his mother, party leader So­nia, ad­dressed the ral­ly­ing farm­ers at a protest park in cen­tral New Delhi on Sun­day.

Rahul ac­cused Modi of win­ning the elec­tion with fund­ing from in­dus­tri­al­ists he now needs to pay back.

“How will he pay back the loan now? He will do it by giv­ing your lands to those top in­dus­tri­al­ists. He wants to weaken the farm­ers, then snatch their land and give it to his in­dus­tri­al­ist friends,” Rahul Gandhi, speak­ing Hindi, told more than 50,000 cheer­ing farm­ers who came to the rally from all over In­dia.

Many have ques­tioned how the Congress party planned to counter Modi’s elec­tion-win­ning prom­ise of rapid eco­nomic growth.

For­mer Prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh said Modi’s or­der was in­tended to hurt farm­ers’ in­ter­ests, and So­nia Gandhi ac­cused the gov­ern­ment of be­ing against farm­ers, the help­less and the poor.

Just an hour ear­lier, how­ever, Modi pre-empted the rally by telling law­mak­ers from his party, “Lies are be­ing spread on the land bill by per­verted minds. Some peo­ple have de­cided not to speak, see or hear any­thing good about our gov­ern­ment.”

In com­ments spo­ken in Hindi and broad­cast widely on In­dian TV, he said, “All de­ci­sions I am tak­ing are for the wel­fare of the poor.” Mean­while, in Ger­many days af­ter Modi vis­ited the coun­try, In­dian cor­po­rate lead­ers re­port­edly urged their for­eign coun­ter­parts to be pa­tient.

“The gov­ern­ment has un­der­taken a num­ber of pol­icy ini­tia­tives in the last few months,” Tata Group Chair­man Cyrus Mistry said at the Han­nover Fair, ac­cord­ing to Press Trust of In­dia. “We are very pos­i­tive about the fu­ture, but it will take time.”

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