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National Convention on struggles against land grab and fabrication of false cases against activists (February 7-8, 2013)


Convention on struggles against land grab and fabrication of false cases against activists
(February 7-8, 2013 - Indian Social Institute, New Delhi)

Organised by: INSAF, FCFC (North) & others

Draft Background Note
In a report presented to the Parliament in May 2012, it is observed that land acquisition by the State for the companies has "unleashed the tribal and rural backlash" creating need for new legislation.

The communities in the country and elsewhere in the world who are facing the corporate onslaught constitute a community of fate. There is a dire need for them to exchange learnings from their ongoing struggles to strengthen each other and to ensure that natural resources like land and materials embedded in it.

Land is a precious natural resource and is main source of livelihood in the Country. As per 'Economic Survey of India 2011' over 18 million rural families in India are landless. The fact is that even the landless are dependent on land for their livelihood. Some 60 percent of the labour in the country is still engaged in agriculture and allied occupation  

Central Government is grabbing lands using some 17 existing legislations for land acquisition. Besides this there are State legislations for the same. The collusion among most of the national and regional political parties with industry bodies has become quite stark.

The abnormal state of affairs in this regard has been underlined in the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development presented to both the houses of Parliament on May 17, 2012 in the matter of the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Bill, 2011. 

Since February 2, 1899, the land acquisition process has been carried out under the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 which has been amended 17 times in pre-independent and post-independent India.

The Power of the sovereign to take private property for public use, also known as Eminent Domain or 'Compulsory Purchase‘, and the consequent rights to the owner for compensation, are well established. The origins of the term ―Eminent Domain has been traced to the legal treatise written by the Dutch jurist, Hugo Grotius in 1625, using the term "dominiun eminens" (Latin for 'supreme lordship‘) and described as: ―the property of subjects is under the eminent domain of the state, so that the state or he who acts for it may use and even alienate and destroy such property, not only in the case of extreme necessity, in which even private persons have a right over the property of others, but for ends of public utility, to which ends those who founded civil society must be supposed to have intended that private ends should give way. But it is to be added that when this is done the state is bound to make good the loss to those who lose their property.

Since early 19th century, the doctrine of Eminent Domain has been invoked in the form of land acquisition by the British East India Company and British Government when India was a dependency and Indian were subjects and not citizens.

The  power of eminent domain was meant for subjects and not citizens. Opposition to land acquisition for “public purpose”  and "private purpose" by Central and State Governments for a perfect land market, unrestrained and blind urbanisation and forced industrialization is spreading like wildfire from 130 district out of 602 districts to the rest of the districts in the country.  In effect, the opposition of citizens is a democratic challenge to the antiquated royal power of Eminent Domain meant for subjects which the Central and State Governments are invoking.    

The amendment made in 1962 permitted acquisition by the State for a Company ―"which is engaged or is taking steps for engaging itself in any industry or work which is for a public purpose."

The amendments made in 1984 in blurred any differentiation between acquisition for a State purpose and ―acquisition for a private enterprise or ―State enterprise by amending section 4 of the original Act to insert the words ―or  for a Company after ―any public purpose.

As a consequence, the Courts have interpreted this amendment to mean that any notification of acquisition issued under section 4 need not specify whether the acquisition is for a ―public purpose or for ―a Company.

Not surprisingly, instead of diluting the royal power of Eminent Domain which is a colonial legacy, the proposed legislation by the Central Government proposes to 'extinguish the distinction in the original 1894 Act between acquisition by the State for a State purpose from purchase of land by a Company for a private purpose by including ―Public Private Partnership projects and ―private companies'.

It has been noted that India is perhaps the only country where the State acquires land for profit-making private and PPP enterprises.

Parliamentary Committee’s report to the Parliament has revealed unequivocally the position about land acquisition for private companies by the State in respect of few countries. In the United States, "After the acquisition of land for private companies became highly controversial, and several State Supreme Courts, including those of Oklahoma, South Carolina, Illinois and Michigan, placed bans on the acquisition of land for private companies, the then President George W. Bush issued Executive Order No.13406 on 23 June 2006 mandating the Government to acquire land only for ―the purpose of benefiting the general public and not merely for the purpose of advancing the economic interest of private parties to be given ownership or use of the property taken."

In Canada, "The Canadian Expropriation Act of 1985 allows expropriation but only on an exceptional case-by-case basis where the ―real right is required by the Crown for a public work or other public purpose, but not to further the commercial interests of a private company."

In European Union, "There is no provision in their laws for the acquisition by the State of land for private enterprises."

In Japan, "Even for a key infrastructural project that sought to expand Tokyo‘s Narita International Airport, the primary mode of obtaining land in the surrounding areas was through extensive negotiations and higher compensation packages offered to those who were willing to sell their land."

In Australia, "There is provision for land acquisition in the Northern Territories but that is primarily aimed at protecting the interests of the local aborigines and their traditional rights to community ownership of land."

In China, "All land is owned by the State and, therefore, it is allotment by the State rather than acquisition by the State which determines the purposes for, and entities to which, land is made available."

It is clear that in all developed democracies, private purchase of land, not State acquisition, is the norm. There is no provision in their laws for the State acquisition of privately held land for profit-making private enterprises, nor, by extension, for public-private enterprises.

On account of large scale acquisitions, the magnitude of the displaced people has been highlighted by the Government of India  appointed D. Bandyopadhyay headed Expert Group's Report on Development Challenges in Extremist Affected Areas, which was submitted to the Planning Commission in 2008.

The Report underlined, "Apart from poverty and deprivation in general, the causes of the tribal movements are many: the most important among them are absence of self governance, forest policy, excise policy, land related issues, multifaceted forms of exploitation, cultural humiliation and political marginalisation. Land alienation, forced evictions from land, and displacement also added to unrest. Failure to implement protective regulations in Scheduled Areas, absence of credit mechanism leading to dependence on money lenders and consequent loss of land and often even violence by the State functionaries added to the problem."

It further observed, "Land acquisition for Special Economic Zones (SEZ) has given rise to widespread protest in various parts of the country. Large tracts of land are being acquired across the country for this purpose. Already, questions have been raised on two counts. One is the loss of revenue in the form of taxes and the other is the effect on agricultural production."

The report noted, "An official database of persons displaced / affected by projects is not available. However, some unofficial studies, particularly by Dr. Walter Fernandes, peg this figure at around 60 million for the period from 1947 to 2004, involving 25 million ha. which includes 7 million ha. of forest and 6 million ha. of other Common Property Resources (CPR)*. Whereas the tribals constitute 8.08% of country‘s population, they are 40% of the total displaced/affected persons by the projects. Similarly at least 20% of the displaced /affected are Dalits and another 20% are OBCs. The resettlement record is also very dismal. Only a third of the displaced persons of planned development have been resettled."

These findings were presented to the Parliament in May 2012. Clearly, there is a logical compulsion for the "tribal and rural backlash" against land acquisition by the Governments for the Companies of all ilk.

It has aptly been argued that since there is no question of the State acquisition of labour or capital two of the three principal factors of production why should State be allowed to undertake acquisition of the third factor the land, the most precious and scarce of the three factors for production, for private enterprises, PPP enterprises or even public enterprises?

Given the fact that land is a State subject and 'Acquisition' is under the Concurrent list, both the Central and State Governments are responsible for the emergence of civil war like situation because so far they are reluctant to give up the anomalous practice of acquiring land for private parties that has been given up even by countries like USA, Japan, Canada etc.

Both the LARR Bill and the report of the Parliamentary Committee failed to take cognisance of the rampant land grab underway in Africa. There is no official status report in public domain with regard to these land acquisitions by Indian companies. It is estimated that Indian companies have invested around $3 billion in Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Senegal and Madagascar to produce a wide variety of food crops and also crops that would be used to produce agrofuel. It is learnt that Government of India is actively encouraging investments in land acquisition programmes by providing cheap lines of credit to the governments of Ethiopia, Senegal, Kenya, Madagascar and Mozambique.

Under globalization, the natural resources like land water and forests are being looted by the corporates in such a way that would not have been imagined even by the British colonial forces. The neo-colonial loot has also established Indian subsidiary interests, marginalizing a large section of the population. Many people’s movements have emerged in recent history, questioning the development policies of the Central and State Governments. The people’s movement against POSCO (one of the largest Foreign Direct Investment in India), is facing over 180 fabricated cases on over 1500 villagers and activists. Their leader, Abhay Sahoo who was jailed twice during the struggle is facing 51 fabricated cases today. Human rights and anti displacement activist Seema Azad from UP was jailed for over 2 years, Adivasi leader Dayamani Barla from Jharkhand was jailed for over 2 months, Farmers leader Dr. Sunilam is languishing in MP jail on life imprisonment charges, Environmental activist Jiten Yumnam was tortured and jailed for over  4 months in Manipur....the list goes on endlessly!

Fabrication of cases on innocents have become a norm today for the institutions of Indian State, violating all principles of human rights. But unfortunately, those who seek freedom today through their struggles on the grave issues of globalization, destructive development, environmental justice, labour rights, women’s rights, adivasi rights, self determination movements, dalit movements, farmers’ movements, fisher people’s movements, anti-nuclear movements, human rights movement and many other such struggles find their space in these very jails where our ancestors occupied for one reason: Freedom!

There is a need to reach out to the struggle groups in these countries because these are part of the same struggle. which is unfolding in India. This is of huge significance because leaders and activists of the struggle groups are facing strategic litigation against them in the form of fabricated cases. Such cases are a tool to silence public interest persons.

In such a backdrop, combined startegising is of immense importance to combat such designs of the companies and colluding governments.
Presentations by:
Adivasi Moolvasi Astitva Raksha Manch - Dayamani Barla (Jharkand)
Posco Pratirodh Sangharsh Samiti - Abhay Sahoo & Prashant Paikray (Odisha)
Kisan Sangharsh Samiti - Dr. Sunilam/ Adv. Aradhana Bharghav (Madhya Pradesh)
Nadi Ghati Morcha - Gautam Bandopadhyay (Chhattisgarh)
Anti MSEZ movement - Vidya Dinkar (Karnataka)
Anti SEZ movement - K. Rajendra (Andhra Pradesh)
Himalaya Nithi Abhiyan - Guman Singh (Himachal Pradesh)
Akhil Gogoi, Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), Assam
Centre for Research and Advocacy, Manipur & Committee on the Protection of Natural Resources in Manipur  - Jiten Yumnam(Manipur)
Antinuclear power project - Gorakhpur (Haryana), Jaitapur (Maharashtra), Kovvada (Andhra Pradesh).
Krishi Bhumi Bachao Morcha - (Uttar Pradesh)
Cement Plant Virodhi Andolan - Capt. Deepsinh Sekhavat (Rajasthan)
and others.

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