In the past two days, four persons have lost their lives in land acquisition-related violence close to the national capital.
Farmers in western Uttar Pradesh—in Gautam Buddh Nagar and Agra districts— have been demanding better compensation for their farmland. The demand is more than justified. The Uttar Pradesh government, instead of lending a sympathetic ear to the protesters, has unleashed its police force on them. It has also announced a cash reward on the leader of the farmers who is allegedly behind the protests. It is easy to blame the state government—and it is no doubt blameworthy. But the Union government and members of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) are also responsible for this state of affairs. It has been pointed out many times in these columns that a proper land acquisition law, one that clearly spells out “public purpose” in relation to land acquisition, would go far in checking the problem. A law that unambiguously spells out rights, claims and administrative procedures would also go some way in curbing the excesses of state governments.
There is no sign of that law. If anything, leaders such as Mamata Banerjee, who have championed farmers’ rights for so long in West Bengal, should also look elsewhere in the country. Her opposition to the introduction of a Bill in Parliament is well known even if it is perplexing.
It would, however, be invidious to blame her alone. The UPA government shoulders the primary responsibility for the situation. If anything, a Bill introduced by the government in Parliament would ensure that no political party can play hide and seek on the matter.
Land rights, especially in the case of farmers, is a politically sensitive subject and a Bill ensuring a modicum of protection to farmers is bound to attract support across the political spectrum.
This missing piece of law is now one of the big barriers behind a slowdown in large public and private projects having a public bearing. The danger that investors may lose interest, if they’ve not already done so, is very real. The government should try to create consensus on ushering in a land acquisition law as speedily as it can.
Why is there no consensus on a land acquisition law? Tell us at email@example.com