Now the biggest challenge before the Narendra Modi regime at the Centre is the most controversial Land Acquisition Bill. The BJP government issued an ordinance for amending the Act passed by the previous UPA government.
DMK President Kalaignar has said that he only felt that the BJP regime was unnecessarily inviting a trouble for a price. As it had strength in the Lok Sabha it had tabled the bill but in the Rajya Sabha it would have to allow debate when it tabled there. Narendra Modi has rejected the demand of the opposition parties for amendments in the bill. The Act was adopted during the UPA rule in 2013, in which it was stipulated that the consent of 80 percent of the affected farmers should be obtained while acquiring lands and it should be noted whether it was agricultural land. But in the present ordinance the stipulation that agricultural lands should not be acquired has been removed for five segments. This decision would confirm that the BJP government was working against the farmers’ community and in support of big business and MNCs. The stipulation of returning the unused land if the project for which it was acquired back to the owner farmers is also removed in the ordinance. “I am of the view that Prime Minister’s insistence not to withdraw is not a correct decision. The Centre should realize that it has to face dangerous consequences if it failed to protect the basic rights of farmers over their lands”, Kalaignar has said.
But the bill also dismantled safeguards that are central to the land acquisition law, undermining the rights of communities to participation and consultation. The land acquisition law, which came into force in January 2014, stated that the consent of 70 per cent of families is mandatory where land is sought to be acquired for public-private partnership projects, and 80 per cent for private projects. The executive ordinance removed these requirements for a range of projects, including those relating to defence and national security, rural infrastructure, affordable housing, industrial corridors and infrastructure. The ordinance also exempted these projects from having to go through a social impact assessment – a study by independent experts to map a project’s impact on people’s lands and livelihoods, and its economic, social and cultural consequences, in consultation with affected communities.
While all the opposition parties in the country including all allies of the BJP have opposed the Land acquisition bill, the ADMK and its supremo Jayalalitha was maintaining conspicuous silence underling the fact that they intended to use this draconian anti-farmer anti-people legislation for their own ends in the State.
Now it is feared whether this controversial ordinance will first get executed in Tamil Nadu. The then Chief Minister Jayalalitha on May 12,, 2012 announced the setting up of three industrial manufacturing zones with ‘high class infrastructural facilities and a competitive environment to bring about an industrial renaissance in the State’. The three zones would come up over 7,500 acres of land and a Special Purpose Vehicle would be formed to set up of these zones. Jayalalitha said the zones will come up in the first phase at Ottapidaram in Tuticorin District (1,500 acre), Katrambakkam in Vellore District (2,000 acres) and Hosur in Krishnagiri district (4,000 acres). She said SIPCOT has been taking steps to acquire 20,000 acres of land for large industries which come forward to invest in Tamil Nadu.
There cannot be any dispute over the idea for setting up industrial estates for industrial development in backward areas. But the decision of the ADMK regime to acquire fertile agricultural lands for the purpose has run into controversy. The government has announced that a manufacturing zone over 2,300 acre area would be established near Shoolagiri in Hosur Taluk, Krishnagiri district. A G.O was issued for this on November 21, 2012. The work of identifying lands have been assigned to the Revenue department which in the first stage identified 834 acre land in 6 panchayats of Koneripalli, Attakuricki, Kanalatti, Marudhandipalli, Chettipalli and Tboripalli in Shoolagiri union, notified the details of the lands to be acquired and issued notices for acquiring the lands to farmers on January 21.
An exclusive office with a Tahsildar has been set up in Shoolagiri and the work of issuing notices to farmers has been intensified. The affected farmers have already met the District Collector and presented their petition against the move. But the district administration washed of its hands telling the farmers to tell their views during the meeting to elicit views of the public as the government was determined to go ahead.
With the farmers left in quandary, many associations of famers and political parties had taken up their cause.
All these fertile lands situated in this area adjacent to National Highway No 7 are receiving irrigation of Thenpennai river from the Kelavarapalli dam. In the wells in this area water is available from 5 feet. As it is red soil land with favourable climate paddy, coconut, plantain, vegetables etc., were cultivated and farmers were getting good harvest of crops. The famers cultivate vegetables including tomato, paddy, ragi, ginger, gabbage, beans, carrot, beetroot, coriander, mint, peas and nukkol. Tons of vegetables from here are sent to not only all over Tamil Nadu but also to Karnataka and Andhra. By acquiring such fertile cultivable lands from poor and downtrodden farmers their means of livelihood will be destroyed. Only because of this, the move is resisted by the local people.
It was not as if the State government had no other alternative areas to acquire lands for industrial purposes. There are two SIPCOT industrial estates in Hosur taluk, in which now 236 industrial units had been closed as the ADMK government failed to ensure continuous supply of power. Already there were over one thousand acre land acquired for SIPCOT 1 and 2. Government poromboke land of over 1,000 acres existed between Pancheswaram and Maththagiri villages in Hosur taluk. As it was adjacent to national highways it will be beneficial for industries and agricultural lands will be protected if those lands were acquired. But the government is said to be firm in acquiring these lands.
The State government has entered into a car manufacturing MNC which has planned to set up shop here with the production capacity of 1000 cars per month. The MNC has stipulated conditions such as easy road links to other states, favourable climatic condition, availability of water and transport and electricity infrastructure. It is said the government is determined to acquire these lands of over 2,000 acres to help that MNC.
The situation is similar to the episode of the previous Left Front government in West Bengal acquiring 900 acre land in Singur for Tata Nano car manufacturing unit. The fierce struggle of farmers against acquiring of these fertile lands, supported by the opposition party Trinamool Congress for over two years ended not only in the Tata group giving up the project but also in the overthrow of over 30 years of rule of the Left Front in that State.
Similarly the ADMK government is bent upon acquiring agricultural lands at cheap prices for handing over to a Multi-National car manufacturing company. As the land acquisition laws of the Centre is also favourable for the move the grievance of local people over losing their lands is growing day by day. Already the State had witnessed the agitations of delta farmers against the move of GAIL. Moreover local farmers and people of about 80 villages of Perunthurai and Karumandipalayam townships in Erode district are protesting against setting up of Coke factory over 70 acres in SIPCOT complex as they apprehend that the factory would take away water of 30 lakh litres daily from new Tirupur combined drinking water scheme, which will affect other small industries and people of villages. All political parties, trade associations, and public welfare organisations organised a bandh in Sennimalai and Perunthurai.
Will Shoolagiri become the Singur of Tamil Nadu? While the national and State media played the main role in bringing down the Left Front government in West Bengal by super-enthusiastically covering the agitation in Singur, it is shameful and unfortunate that they have turned a Nelson’s eye to the struggle of farmers and local people of Shoolagiri and Perunthurai against the forcible land acquisition by the ADMK regime! (08-03-15)