Summary of Discussion on Draft National Land Reforms Policy

Moderators Note: Dear Members, While we convey our sincere thanks to all the members who have given response on the draft National Land Reforms Policy (http://rural.nic.in/sites/downloads/latest/Draft_National_Land_Reforms_Policy_July_2013.pdf), we are  happy to share the outputs of the discussion with our esteemed members. Full responses of members are available at: ftp://ftp.solutionexchange.net.in/public/mf/resource/res04091301.pdf.


Summary of Discussion on Draft National Land Reforms Policy

 Overall Observations

Pro-poor and Pro-women policy: Overall, the draft National Land Reforms Policy is pro-poor and pro-women. But three aspects in particular need further consideration: Women’s land rights; Tenancy; and Public Land Bank.

 More focused towards rural land reforms: The ‘Draft National Land Reforms Policy’ seems to be skewed more on rural land reforms. Urban land issues are equally complex though the size might be smaller. Hence the draft would do well to have urban related issues addressed as well. Besides, land use plan for urban areas it will be useful to include the crucial aspect of earmarking ‘dumping space’ for urban wastes. There is hardly any mention of the pro-poor land issues in urban India. The issues of pavement dwellers, street vendors, slum dwellers, un-regularized colonies, and the like are not mentioned in the policy.

Exemption of North Eastern region: The Policy has exempted the states of North-Eastern India and does not seem to be adequately clarifying the reasons for the same.

Introduction needs to be more focused: Introduction part of the policy is perhaps going to serve as preamble of the policy therefore the policy needs to be sharper in terms of its intentions towards the land issue. Land is not a commodity which can be left to market. This is linked to livelihood, culture and dignity of the people and communities. Reading through the entire document, it is somewhat clear that the policy goals are fivefold; a) Land Distribution b) Land Restoration c) Land Protection d) Women’s Land Rights, and e) Institutional Reform for efficiency, transparency and accountability. These five policy goals should be clearly stated in the introduction.

Coverage of Backward Classes in the policy: There has been little mention of the other backward classes (OBCs), Salt farmers (in Gujarat’s context).

Interconnections between demand for agriculture and non-agriculture purposes: The proposed policy needs to address the interconnections of surging demand of land for agricultural purpose and demand of more land for non-agricultural purpose and to strike a balance through land reforms policy.

 Mention of the failures in past with respect to land redistribution : The failures of the past with respect to land redistribution, its equitable distribution and management must be laid out and analyzed along with the considerable data and land use plans already available with the State Governments. This will help in making the policy sharper.

Administrative reforms and improvements in institutional processes: The Policy encompasses a very large set of pro-active administrative, legal and quasi-legal actions to ensure the rights to land of all socially and economically marginalized communities including SCs, STs, Women, Nomads and the like. Additionally, the policy proposes a number of administrative reforms, and improvements in institutional processes to make it more efficient, transparent, and accountable. In the present form, these proposals are scattered in the text. It is useful to have those under a Part-B of the policy.

Budgetary provisions to be given in the report: There are several measures prescribed in the policy that would require substantial budgetary support from the state and central government. Considering the precarious status of the finances of many states, it is almost obvious that the central government will have to provide requisite budgetary support to make it happen. It is not clear whether the central government has computed the budgetary requirement to support implementation of this policy. A brief about the budget support should form part of the policy.

 Specific Suggestions of the Members on various issues of Draft National Land Reforms Policy:

Chapters /Themes Comments/ Suggestions
I.             Introduction

 

 

 

 

Fresh Land use data required and sources of data to be quoted throughout: The India Rural Development Report 1992 data (Para 4 – page 3) could now be redundant as many changes have taken place in the 21 years after the report. NSSO’s data of 2003-04 could be current than 1992 but still is stale comparing to the dynamic status of the issue. Hence a fresh Land Use data and plan would certainly be useful. It will be useful if the source of important data quoted in different sections of the policy, is given.

More desegregated data needed:  Dataset provided in this section and in some subsequent sections, is limited and lacking desegregation of states, category of land issues, constituencies (women, single women, nomads, etc.), longitudinal trends, etc.

II.           Land Use Plan

 

 

 

 

Defining the terms ‘Land Use’: In the ‘Land Use Plan’ defining “Land use” will be useful. The section must also mention the competing interest for the “land use plan” and preparedness for managing those interests.

Prescribing ratio limits to land use: Land use plan must also prescribe the ratio limits to land use for different purpose.

Creating a National Body: A national body on the pattern of development council, under the Ministry of Agriculture should be formed where gram sabha should be recognized as the competent authority for all land related matters.

Monitoring and Accountability: The goals to be completed within specified number of years needs to be specified. Such commitment would make the policy useful in terms of monitoring and accountability.

Process of identification of land: The process for identification of land is also not mentioned in the policy. A uniform method for state to identify the available land must be prescribed in the policy. Different states have different terminologies used for various types of land. Hence it will be good to list out all those known types of land in the document.

Specify the mechanism of preparing land use plans and Master plans: The policy has to carefully draft its positions on how land use plans and master plans would be prepared and finalised. For example in the Introduction itself it is hoped that master plans from the state to the block level will be prepared and areas unfit for agriculture would be allocated for industrial and other non agriculture uses.

Pro-poor land use plan: It would also be important to share all the data generated on current land uses with the gram sabhas and with different stakeholders to jointly arrive at a pro-poor land use plan. This has not been clearly stated in the document.

Ceiling of surplus lands to education institutions needs to be increased and made more than the 15 acres and could be allotted on actual need basis rather than on ad-hoc basis.

Redistribution of un-utilized lands acquired or allotted for public purposes:  It suggests the reversion of land allotted if not utilized for the purpose within 5 years of allotment. Does this include those sold by government for housing purposes? If so, what is the sanctity of a sale deed which gives the right of piece and parcel of land to a buyer, his representatives and / or heirs? This should be adequately clarified and taken care of.

Specify Participatory Process: Policy document may specify that the Land use plan will be prepared in a participatory, integrated  and bottom up manner.

Review existing Land use plans: It will be useful to critically review the existing land use plans for all states, before going in for new land use plan.

Reverse mortgage product for senior citizens: Within the ambit of the Draft National Land Reform Policy, the Government should seriously consider introduction of a financial product so that the asset rich and cash poor senior citizens can fight old age poverty and diversify and reduce the risk of longevity through RAM (Reverse Annuity Mortgages). 

*A Reverse Mortgage is a form of financial arrangement between an ‘Asset Rich-Cash Poor’ Borrower and a Reverse Mortgage Lender. This arrangement allows elderly persons to convert their substantial house equities into loans in the form of cash advances requiring no repayment until a future time.

III. Assignment of Land to the Landless Poor

 

 

 

 

 

Define ‘Landless’ and ‘Time Bound’: ‘Landless’ and ‘time bound’ needs to be defined in this chapter to give more clarity.

Define ‘Public Purpose’: ‘Public purpose’ must be defined in the policy and also the non-public purpose must be categorized. Land allocation for non-public purpose must be prohibited.

Ceiling Limit: Ceiling on land should be decided by each state according to the regional criteria.

Use of donated Land: In the category of ‘Bhoodan land’, the consent of donor should be waved. The demarcation of land available with Bhoodan committee must be completed and then legalized.  In the sub-section of government land, land available with Railways and Defense which is not being used since its acquisition must be taken. These categories must be included in the government land.

Land Donation information on Web: In order to have more transparency, the information about the land donation and also allocation can be made available on the web. People who donated the land should also be listed in an on-line document.

Assignment of land: Bhoodan land and ceiling surplus land, and land for religious institutions are often governed by separate laws. Therefore it is advisable not to include these categories in this section. Separate section may be created for treating ceiling surplus and Bhoodan lands.

Specify State land bank and Community land bank separately (Section-III-a-b): Both these sub-sections discuss about ‘land pool’, but under different sub heads. This is creating confusion which may be rectified. Also section XII discusses again  about ‘land bank’. These two terms have different meanings in different states. It is useful to declare one as ‘state land pool or state land bank (SLP-SLB)’ and the other as ‘community land bank or a community land pool (CLB-CLP)”.

Ceiling Surplus land (Section III-d): Ceiling laws can be implemented only with greater pro-poor political mobilization on the ground which does not exist today. Therefore, this proposal is impractical and not realizable and in fact given the difficult historical implementation distracts from the many feasible points made in the policy.

Land to religious institutions (Section III-h): While recognizing the need to relook at Wakf board’s land, singling out land of religious institution of one community is socially and politically not desirable, particularly when, such issues exist in land given to other religious communities as well. The ceiling limit with regards to land that can be given to religious institutions must be re-considered and it should not be more than 5-10 acres.

Provision of Including additional names if some genuine people are left out: There should be a provision to approach higher authority in time bound manner if someone wants to include his/her name. It is because, there may be a chance when gram sabha with majority can discriminate a person/family/community on any reason. 

A system of surprise check after the allotments of land: After allotment of land to landless poor, there must be surprise checking system and strict rules to stop sell/transfer of this land. Also, it must be provisioned that land should be used by beneficiary only for the defined purpose. There should be a complaint window where anyone can write about any complaint of land misuse by anyone.

IV. Protection of Lands belonging to Scheduled Castes,Scheduled

Tribes and other Marginalized Communities

 

 

 

 

Bring all policy prescriptions pertaining to protection of land of the Dalits, Tribals and Women at one place: Protection and restoration of land have been used in a number of sub sections almost interchangeably, creating confusions around the importance of these two distinct actions. We suggest a) all the policy prescriptions pertaining to protection of land of the Dalits, Tribals and Women be brought under one Section; and b) all such policy prescriptions pertaining to restoration be brought into another section clearly distinguishing the two.

Prescribe the timelines for review: The time line for review of existing laws and policies must be prescribed. 

Restriction on purchase of tribal land – not helping Tribals: The restriction on purchase of tribal land by non-tribals is not helping them at many places. It will be better if some transparent guidelines on fixing prices, land titles, plot sizes which can be sold etc. are issued so that tribal are also able to get better prices.

Special Task Force for Protection and restoration of Tribal land:  A special task force needs to be created at the state level to specifically institute a legal aid programme for protection and restoration of the Tribal land for next five years to address long pending issues.

Land Protection Fund and Land Consolidation Fund (Section IV-c-i and V-c-vi) –  Creation of a Single fund:

Creating two fund mechanisms is cumbersome and confusing to the people for whom it is intended so creation of only one fund to be situated at the Gram Panchayat for both purposes is proposed.

In case of scheduled areas, land cannot be alienated without the permission of Gram Sabha. However, sale and purchase of land among the tribal population is allowed. This provision cannot be taken away by Gram Sabha under Indian laws nor is it desirable to do so.

V. Scheduled Tribes and Land Access

 

 

 

Review of Forest Rights Act: Amendment in Forest Rights Act to rationalize the provision of three generations for other forest dwellers (non-tribal) must be reviewed. Provisions of PESA must be implemented in letter and spirit in cases of mining in schedule V areas.

Forest and Revenue Boundary Disputes Reconciliation and Settlement (iii) – If in case, the allotted land granted under FRA, 2006 have a richer biodiversity, whether such land would be handed over to revenue department once it is proved as a revenue land. Policy needs to clarify the guiding norms under which a forest village is transformed into a revenue village?

VI. Land to the Nomads

 

 

 

More clarity on the method of identifying Nomads: More clarity is required on – how to identify the nomads, and how to ensure that they have not utilized the same facility in some other state.

Settling the Nomads should be part of special development initiative of the MoRD or MoTA, under which at least 10 decimal homestead land and appropriate size of crop-land may be considered through proper piloting.

Right to Minimum Land Holding Act: The proposal to design a “Right to Minimum Land Holding Act” seems to be an attempt to change the definition of ‘Nomad’ and its subjective role in terms of environmental conservation. Whether in long run, the ecological services provided by a nomad would get discounted, the moment he/she is provided with permanent land settlement. Secondly, it do not mentioned about the entitlements provided to a nomad in an Indian society. Under what ground, the land titles would be allotted and legitimately recognized?

VII. Land Rights to Women

 

 

 

Unequal access to land – cause of inequality for women: Women’s right to land is a critical factor in social status, economic well-being and empowerment. Land is also a social asset, crucial for identity, political power and participation in the local decision – making process.

Giving women individual titles: There are contradictory provisions on this count in the draft policy. Some provisions recommend transfers only to women, others as joint titles (see clauses ii, vi, vii, x, xi, xiii).  In some cases, different clauses recommend different things even for the same type of transfer (e.g. homesteads or resettlement).

There is merit in giving women individual titles for the reasons stated in clause vii (p. 18) in that joint titles with husbands give little control to the woman. If a fixed amount is allotted per family then each spouse could be given half the allotment. Individual titles would also work for single/widowed/separated/divorced women.

Include single women as a category and redefine family: It is important to include the category of single women and define family so that women are listed as heads, with land being transferred to women of the next generation.

 

Creating support systems for women for economic security: We need to ensure that women cultivators are not faced with challenges regarding working capital and marketing hurdles and prices.

Build capacities of women to take informed decisions: While women have been given training to take informed decisions on the responsibilities bestowed upon them viz. common property resources etc.

Special Provisions and Schemes for Women: Special provisions and schemes in land allocation are required under CPLR and other programmes for Female headed Households.

Simplification of Administrative Procedures:  Simplifying administrative procedures for women to claim land rights is essential. Often, unfriendly administrative system coupled with complex and confusing procedures prevent women to claim their rights.

Creating conducive Environment to facilitate in claiming for land by the women: Recognizing claim of women over land, legally as well as socially it is important to create an enabling environment where women could assert their land rights through awareness generation, capacity building and changing mindset or social attitude.

Laws related to mortgaging women’s land for loans : Social, religious and legal norms governing dowry practices/inheritance, high cost of marriage/ costly wedding affairs where loans are obtained while mortgaging a piece of land etc. needs to be reviewed and reworked.

More women in decision making: More women in decision making bodies may be seen as a step towards pushing women friendly agenda.

Loans to Women: Loans to women’s group for collective cultivation of land in order to enhance women’s collective land ownership, needs attention.

Priority to Single Women: Single women are one of the most vulnerable categories for land alienation as also during land grabbing. Hence, giving priority to single women in:  protection from land alienation; restoration of alienated land; prevention of land sale out of distress as also in land development is a must. 

Land titles to women on property owned by men: It will be important to intervene in the individually owned property which is largely in the name of men. Hindu Succession Act or any other personal law for that matter is not enough to guarantee land rights for women. The states should be held accountable to see through the implementation of these personal laws by setting up different mechanisms to facilitate the process.

Reserving land for urban poor and its impact on poor women: Discussion on land and livelihood is generally focused on rural poor. However, the urban poor, especially women, also face severe hardships, sometimes face greater difficulties. For example – The rate of urbanization and migration from rural to urban areas is about 35% in Gujarat while the reservation of land is about 10% for urban poor.

Hindu Succession Amendment Act 2005: On the Hindu Succession Amendment Act 2005 (para viii), some parts of this para are no longer valid in the present form and sentences from “Various provisions need to be reviewed…. State laws related to agricultural land” can be deleted. What we need, however, are mechanisms to ensure that women are not coerced into signing away the shares promised to them by the Hindu Succession Amendment Act 2005. A sharing of experiences by grassroots groups on how this can be done would prove useful.

Involving local grassroots groups in Monitoring : Recommendation on speedy implementation of the HSAA (para ix) is a good one. But to be effective, the monitoring needs to involve local grassroots groups as well.  In addition, another recommendation is needed, namely for setting up a systematic mechanism for spreading awareness of the HSAA and providing legal aid to women who need such support.

Marital Property: The issue of marital property is complex and it should not be brought into the land reform policy (clause xiii) since it has ramifications on inheritance and other laws which have to be thought through.

increasing women farmers’ land productivity: In the “Twelfth Plan Working Group on Disadvantage Farmers”, there are many recommendations for increasing women farmers’ land productivity, including Resource Centres at the panchayat level, for providing  them technical inputs, training, information, and help in accessing government services. Hence, clause xx could be modified and extended.

VIII. Homestead Rights

 

 

 

 

Define Homestead Land: ‘Homestead land’ needs to be defined clearly in the Policy.

Problem about the figure of 8 Million having no house : The fundamental problem here is that the “8 million” figure ignores all those extreme poor who have a simple house, but one that stands on a parcel of land that barely extends beyond the footprint of that house, thus providing no, or virtually no, non-housing benefits. From past discussion, probably the best figure to use is “About 18 million” rural households as lacking a “house of their own accompanied by ownership of underlying and adjacent land of, or close to, 10 cents in size.”

No reference to purchase as a source of land:  It has been fundamental to the Homestead program, as actually developed in the field in several States, that purchase of suitable land in the open market, on a willing buyer-willing seller basis, be available as a source of land for the program. 

No Mention of Central Government Funding for Homestead Programme: There is no reference to Central Government funding of a national Homestead program.  Yet, some states, as now, may sufficiently understand the crucial role of a Homestead program in fighting poverty and in addressing land-based grievances to be willing to use their own funds, specifically for land purchase, but a major and truly universal national program must have Central funding (including, as set forth in the draft National Right to Homestead Bill, 2013, for at least 75% of the cost of purchased land).

No mention of Women’s Rights: There is no reference to women’s rights to Homestead land.  There is an extensive Chapter – Chapter VII on “Land Rights to Women” however an explicit statement in Chapter VIII itself would be highly desirable.

No Reference of National Right to Homestead Bill, 2013: Essential specifics are missing.  The draft National Right to Homestead Bill, 2013 lays out a series of crucial points that field experience has shown must be needed if a Homestead program is to succeed but Chapter VIII is extremely brief, ignoring this body of existing experience.  At the very least, as to providing specifics, this draft Policy paper should refer to the existing draft National Right to Homestead Bill, 2013, and should probably refer to and highlight some of the most important provisions that experience has shown are needed for success.

Homestead plots for single women: Women deserted by their husbands, widowed, sex workers and a myriad other forms of singlehood that comes from marginalisation needs to be categorically stated here and access to homestead land and group access to land for livelihoods needs to be given. 

IX. Common Property Resources

 

 

 

Define Common property – ‘Common Property Resources’ must be defined clearly in the policy.

Specifying the purpose for which common land can be used: Just allotting as common land will not solve the problem, but it should be specified for specific purposes. Solid waste is emerging as a key environment issue, land for solid waste management should be made as a compulsory component.

No individual rights over commons: Common lands is a contentious area and while the policy has taken care to state that the identification would be done by Grams sabhas and that there will be no individual rights over commons, in stating that there would be rights of different communities such as nomads, women’s groups landless etc. the document opens up areas of contestation. There is a need for careful drafting of how these rights would be administered, especially in the light of the fact that the policy is also arguing for independent rights over lands for all.

 

Include wasteland groups besides other collectives: As the policy provides for allotment of lands to women’s groups for cultivation and productive investments, such benefit may be made more inclusive by including the watershed groups, which are mostly men SHGs. This will help the producers organization to scale up their operations.

Rural Business hubs and other social infrastructure to be earmarked to one spot: Land should be consolidated such that, ‘common land’ belonging to village Panchayats which can be used in future to develop rural business hub and infrastructure for education, sports, ponds, health and development administration should be earmarked to one spot rather than be scattered across different locations.

Land use departments at the district level and multi-stakeholder committee at the village level : The Policy provides that the common land will be allotted by Gram sabha. But, in many villages, still the Gram Sabha is not active. Hence, land use departments at the district level can form a village level multi-stakeholder committee. This committee be vested with the power of allotting common lands.  This committee’s decision can be approved by gram sabha, so that President cannot manipulate the gram sabha proceedings.

Provision of Financial allocations for developing infrastructure: There should be a provision of allocation of financial resources in village Panchayats to develop infrastructure on this common land to be utilized for community as a whole. 

Development model of CPR (vii) – JFM model has been criticized often as a State commodity, where community rights and facilities are provided lesser scope in terms of development. Instead, a model based on community forest management needs to be emphasized for betterment of CPR.

Water bodies not mentioned in the policy: Water bodies including live and moribund rivers, and flood plains of the rivers are part of Commons that do not find mention here. This needs to be added.

Commons Policy to be mentioned in the policy document: There is a Supreme Court judgment in 2011 asking every state to form scheme of removing encroachment of commons. In response, Rajasthan Government has formulated a commons policy. Though that policy needs adoption based on local contexts, the land reform policy should mention this in the policy.

Use of CPRs should be restricted to women groups, cooperatives or user associations:  Management of CPRs has been rightly mentioned as to be given to its users. However, evidence exists in some states where CPRs under the custody of the Gram Panchayats have been leased out to private parties under a user fee. Also use of CPRs has been diverted to produce Bio-fuels under state dictate. To protect from such tendencies, use of CPRs should be restricted to women groups, cooperatives or user associations as decided by the Gram Sabha. 

Bring in gender perspective: Even among the landless and the poor, women are the most affected so CPR issue needs to be seen from gender lens.

More say of women rather than all women Committees at the panchayat level (xiv):  It would be useful to say that women should have a say in CPR matters through sub group meetings. Committees should not be of only women or only SCs or STs as that forecloses any dialogue between different marginalized groups.There is no reason (clause xiv) why management of common property resources should be only women’s responsibility, nor is there consensus that panchayat committees should take charge. CPR management should be joint gender responsibility with 1/3rd or ½ women members.

X. Tenancy

 

 

 

 

 

Long term lease useful for poor farmers: The government should insist on long term lease so that poor farmers who want to take land on lease can plan its utilization for long term. It will help both the lessor and lessee and maintain heath of soil as well. If lessor wants his land to be vacated, or lessee wants to leave the land, either party may give a notice period of at least six months so that each party can make their alternative arrangements.

No automatic resumption of lease on expiry – needs to be negotiable: All renewals of leasing should be negotiable. The purpose of legal recognition should not lead to well-intentioned restrictions. The purpose of legal recognition is better served if the banks honour this recognition and provide the much desired agricultural credit to the lessees.

Leasing out of land by small farmers: In many areas, small farmers too practice leasing out of their holdings and thus the practice of reverse tenancy is on the increase, because of rising capital intensity of inputs in agriculture. It shows that profitability of small holdings is declining because of their lack of access to inputs, subsidies, and markets. Should reverse tenancy be banned by law, or should one fight market imperfections by helping small farmers and improving their access to inputs and markets?

Long term, Joint cultivation rights to women groups:  For agricultural land, there is merit in giving groups of poor rural women joint cultivation rights on a long term basis (rather than individual titles) as recommended in clause iv.  Working in groups can enhance economies of scale, provide consolidated holdings, and increase access to inputs, credit and overall bargaining power of the marginal and small. Hence, this is an important recommendation which needs to be taken forward by civil society and state governments.

More details on tenurial rights: The country does not have a comprehensive legislation on the recognition of tenurial rights and their governance. Such a law could include a process whereby rights – individual, collective, developmental, and common resources of habitations – are defined, claimed, determined and governed through a democratic and transparent process. The recent Forest Rights Act 2006 is a pioneering legislation in this regard but only pertain to forest land. A similar law for land has to be at the basis on which other components should be built on. This is entirely missing in the present draft.

It would also be useful to refer to the “Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests, 2012” passed by FAO. The Guidelines are available at http://www.fao.org/docrep/016/i2801e/i2801e.pdf

XI. Land Acquisition

 

 

 

 

 

Identifying Non-Negotiable area in context of land acquisition: Considering the urbanization and land acquisition pattern, the land acquisition should be restricted in terms of `Non-negotiable Areas’ including multi cropped irrigated lands which must be used for the purpose of agriculture or forest reserves. The Gram Panchayats or local people committees may be empowered to map out which area in a particular village falls under the category of `Non-negotiable Areas’.

Land Acquisition for restricted purposes only: Compulsory land acquisition should be limited to restricted purposes by the government like schools, road, infrastructures etc. where benefits accrue largely to general public. About a decade back, there was a fashion of SEZs. Many small farmers were made landless by acquiring their lands for SEZs.

Equal rights to both spouses: Any land acquisition should require by law the consent of both spouses (and any other women holding titles in the households). Also the rights of both spouses should be recognized equally in compensation given for such acquisition in any form (compensatory land, cash, equity, etc.).

Acquisition of land by Private needs to be monitored strictly: Purchase/Acquisition of land by private/corporate should be monitored strictly with the involvement of people’s participation committees. The PPP acquisitions should be regulated and land for land schemes may be worked out wherever possible.

Synchronization of land acquisition laws with other laws: All laws related to acquisition of land should be coordinated, integrated and merged with other laws like Environment Protection Act, Biodiversity policies, Forest Right Act, the Coal Bearing Act, Mines Act which requires convergence from various ends in order to uphold the rights of historically disadvantaged groups.

Rehabilitation and Resettlement – Provisions for both directly and indirectly affected people:  Considering Rehabilitation and Resettlement as a Right, social safeguards more specifically those pertaining to women, need to be strengthened. Restoring livelihood should be prioritized.

The definition of Project Affected People (PAP) should take into accounts not only `affected families’ but all such people whose livelihood is affected, even if they do not own the land. These may include forest dwellers, agricultural labourers, share croppers, marginal farmers, landless farmers and artisans. The displaced families should be offered jobs by the corporate/private organization acquiring land with preference given to females within the family with the aim of women empowerment.

Compensation in the name of women: The compensation money should be offered in the name of women to prevent alienation of women from land rights. 

Proportional restoration of community resources under CSR : The scheme of restoring livelihood and offering compensation for land acquisition should be linked to proactive corporate social responsibility programme of the corporate/private sector. The policy on corporate social responsibility must carry this clause of `proportional restoration of community resources’ in ratio of natural/community resources exploited by the corporate.

Livelihood restoration: In terms of land acquisition by corporates, this `accountability clause’ should be extended to livelihood restoration of at least one female member besides monetary compensation.

Appropriate way of calculating compensation: To calculate the compensation an adequate procedure needs to be developed. Both `price’ and `value’ of the land needs to account for while calculating `compensation’.

Upholding rights of the farmers: Innovative methods may be utilized to uphold the right of farmers, and protecting the right to livelihood of others related.  The ownership of land remained with the farmers and all future potential gains in case of land price appreciation also vest with the farmers.

Conscious efforts to protect women especially single women and taking special care in acquisition required: Single women, daughters with no male siblings are more prone to land grabbing and land frauds in areas where land acquisition happens on a large scale.  Women do not have access to information on land being acquired and even if land is acquired with consent, all negotiations take place only with men.  Compensation for the land is only to the ‘land owner’ – mostly the man; not recognizing women’s role in agriculture; although the impact of loss of livelihood is much more on them.  Poor widows and single women are the first target for land grabbing; they are disentitled without their knowledge.

XII. Land Bank

 

 

 

 

 

Suggested ‘Public Land Bank’: A public Land bank is suggested under the land reform policy. This was a major recommendation of 12th Plan working Group, but the idea of Public Land Bank was quite different from the Land Bank idea in the NLR draft policy.

A Public Land Bank (PLB) (registered as a Society) would be created at the panchayat level. Land owners would “deposit” in the PLB land parcels that they do not want to cultivate. The deposit would be on a voluntary basis and could range from one season to several years. The depositors would receive an incentive payment per hectare on deposit, the amount varying by period (analogous to current, savings and fixed bank deposits), with an additional amount being paid if the land gets leased out. The landowner would be free to withdraw the land with due notice. Since the PLB would serve as the intermediary between landlord and tenant, the landlord would have no risk of losing the land title to the tenant. The PLB would lease out the land under its command to disadvantaged farmers, such as marginal farmers, women, dalits, and tribals. These lessees (as individuals or groups) would get a guaranteed lease, fixed after assessing land quality and in a consolidated plot where possible.

(For details see the Twelfth Plan Working Group Report and the article http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-01-12/edit-page/30616712_1_land-acquisition-lease-land-laws )

XIII. Resolving Land Problems including litigation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Instituting ‘Paralegal Assistance Centers’ – a better option:  There is no evidence that fast track courts and tribunals have made the legal process efficient, cost effective and inclusive for the poor. On the other hand, the paralegal experience of Andhra Pradesh has indeed helped the poor in solving their land related disputes in very large scale. Therefore, instituting a paralegal assistance center should be the main focus of the policy for next five years. The AP experience is special in many ways and cannot be replicated in many parts of the country. It is recommended that Paralegal Assistance Center be situated at the Tehsil and embedded with the Revenue Department to carry out this work.

Property in Joint Names:  ‘Houses in joint name’ is one such reality which would not stand in the court of law if challenged simply because the Hindu Succession Act exists and property ownership would be judged on that basis. It would be thus important to study the contradictions that may arise between the law and the ground realities before introducing such Government orders as a populist measure.

XIV. Modernization of Land Records

 

 

 

 

 

Creating new Authority – not required for land updating records: The section rightly recognizes the need to update land records, through survey settlement and mutation process. However, creating a new authority at Delhi will not achieve that. The revenue department of the states needs to take time bound pro-active land records updation campaigns on the ground to update all land records.

Computerization of Land Records: Practical steps need to be taken to ensure proper and correct land records. Why has the programme of computerization of land record not succeeded in its objectives? The question is – Should the mutation office be merged with land records office at the sub-district level?

Process of Participatory Land Mapping to be adopted: The use of GIS and GPS technology must be accompanied by the local knowledge available with Gram Sabha. Process of participatory land mapping must be incorporated as process to strengthen the land records. Natural Resources Accounting and deployment of Geographers at the block level / panchayat level is needed.

GIS and GPS technology must not be sole factor in deciding land ownership claims: GIS data cannot be the sole factor in deciding land ownership claims (Ref:  recent judgment of the Gujarat High Court as well as a Birsa Munda Bhawan Government Resolution). There have been numerous instances of GIS data conflicting with the situation on the ground and resulting in denial of justice and land rights to the vulnerable. While strengthening GIS is important, the policy must build in the following safeguards.

GIS data needs to be approved by Gram Sabha: All GIS data must be placed before the Gram Sabha for its approval before being cited in land disputes/claims.

Documenting and analyzing the data on women’s access to land: To facilitate a better understanding of ground reality to enable appropriate planning strategies, it is important that documenting and analyzing the data on women’s access to land is undertaken.

Gender disaggregated data required before computerisation:  As a part of monitoring, we need gender disaggregated data collection in our agricultural census and land related National Sample Surveys. Gender disaggregated data for the tenure of all types of land is required when computerization of land records is done. We also need careful monitoring to ensure that in the process of computerizing land records women’s claims are entered judiciously.

Role of Panchayats: Women’s (daughters, widows) names are removed from the family tree, sometimes with the support of village revenue officials, sometimes without their knowledge. Role of Panchayats could be strengthened to prevent cases of land disputes especially those affecting women, if these types of entries are read out in Gram Sabha in public.

XV. Empowerment of Gram Sabhas in Scheduled Areas

 

 

 

 

Gram Sabha need not be given responsibility of functioning as an Executive Authority: While the policy rightly focuses on the centrality of the Gram Sabha in matters of non-private lands in scheduled areas, the language of this section is sometimes misleading. The central strength of Gram Sabha lies in its deliberative character and authority, but it appears that the policy is proposing that Gram Sabha be given executive authority. That should be avoided.

Making Gram Panchayat responsible for land records – not feasible: This section makes an attempt to make the Gram Panchayat directly responsible for land records, and its repository. This is too difficult to implement. It will be good to make the office of Patwari accountable to Gram Panchayat and Gram Sabha, in matters of all non-private lands in scheduled areas.

XVI. Land Administration

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thorough review and re-crafting needed: This section has too many sweeping recommendations and declarations, without providing the contexts, justifications, any good practices to learn from, and what many of those aim to achieve. This section needs to be thoroughly reviewed and re-crafted with a few top priority actions.

Conversion of Agriculture Land: Conversion of agricultural land not only for industrialization but also for house constructing activity should be strictly contained. Land should not be de-notified to facilitate agri-land to be converted to residential land

XVII. Training and Capacity Building

 

 

 

 

 

More details on training needs, training institutions required: This section too suffer from inadequate understanding of the training needs, available training institutions and their capacities, available good practices, and what are the most critical components of moving forward. Both these sections are reviewed and re-crafted based on hard realities, and available good practices.
XVIII. State Land Rights Commission

 

 

 

Defining and elaborating the role of State Human Rights Commission: Definitions and role of State Land Rights Commission must be elaborated in the policy document and should not left for subject to interpretations. There must be interaction between the State Land Rights Commission and the proposed mechanism under the Department of Land Resources (DoLR)
XIX. Implementation of this Policy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Detailing out the implementation mechanism including monitoring, penalties and incentives: The policy must give details of the composition, functioning, powers and mandate of this mechanism. The draft should expand clarifications on implementation, penalties and punishments for non-adherence and non-compliance. How the policy will be monitored and how implementation will be ensured in a time bound manner are fundamental questions that need to be answered concretely within the policy itself so that appropriate feedback can be provided by stakeholders.

 

It is necessary to specify the steps that should be taken if a state government fails to adhere to a strict timeline to implement the land reform programmes.

System of reporting about the progress of implementation in State Legislative Assemblies:  The policy must set disaggregated % targets for the amount of land to be distributed amongst SCs, STs, OBCs, women etc. every year. The achievements against this must be part of the annual and bi-annual reports before State Legislative Assemblies and meetings of the State Revenue Ministers. The Department of Land Resources must lay the progress on implementation of the policy (including these targets) before Parliament.

 

Draft National Land Reforms Policy – Ministry of Rural Development

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=4&ved=0CFQQFjAD&url=http%3A%2F%2Frural.nic.in%2Fsites%2Fdownloads%2Flatest%2FDraft_National_Land_Reforms_Policy_July_2013.pdf&ei=6tX4UfHfHsSzrgfPtYEQ&usg=AFQjCNG8Otng3_nFaD2luLrZJeEONO21jQ&sig2=QEx86UTRaDUGC-lPuC7gwQ&bvm=bv.49967636,d.bmk&cad=rja

Draft for Discussion Purposes and Comments. Draft National Land Reforms. Policy. 18th July 2013. DRAFT FOR DISCUSSION PURPOSES AND COMMENTS.

Land reforms at current juncture Response of media and civil society organisations

Land reforms at current juncture

Response of media and civil society organisations

 

Round Table meeting

 

 

11th November, 2011                         10:30 a.m to 1: 30 p.m           SVK, Hyderabad

                                                  INVITATION

 

Dear Friends,

 

Greetings from Bhumikosam- Ikya Sanghatana

 

We believe that you are aware of the present status of implementation of Land reforms in our state as well as country.  The present trend can be generally termed as reverse land reforms process where in, instead of making agricultural, residential and common use land available for majority of the people, the lands are being taken away from the small and marginal holders and making impossible for the landless to have land in the future.  Agriculture lands as well as commons from which majority of the landless poor draw their livelihood are being appropriated by few individuals and corporate companies and their use is being changed on the name of development and employment generation.

In Andhra Pradesh too the trend is similar as seen from the non implementation of KRR committee recommendations as well as many pro-poor land reforms legislations on one side and adoption of land alienation policies in a big way on other hand. The communities are being displaced from their lands and resources both directly and indirectly. Directly on the name of industrial/ employment/development polices. Many cases of land alienation in this form expose the insensitivity with which the state has behaved with its own citizens and betrayed them. Land alienation is also happening indirectly by way of agricultural and urbanisation policies that are making agriculture and land holding unviable for the marginal producers.  Also the aspirations among various generations are varying. Majority of the young generation seem to be not interested in Agriculture and the old forms of land use. Building on this situation, Governments are posing a trade off between employment of youth and land holding of the other generations as well as other land less sections.

With the present neo-liberal policies, the land now has become a valuable commodity or an asset having speculative value or that earns dividends/rent or returns rather than a source of livelihood. From primary form of engagement like agriculture, livestock, fisheries, collection of food, fodder, fuel etc., and for bona-fide livelihoods, the interaction with the land and related resources has been rapidly moving towards commoditisation/commercial exploitation and as a means of high profit generation for few people. These policies are leaving majority of the marginal producers land less, asset less, work and worthless and totally making dependant on other dominant sections/governments for their survival. In this scenario, traditionally landless classes particularly dalits and some tribal communities are losing the opportunity of accessing land and moving up the ladder of societal structure. Lakhs of families are pushed in to absolute poverty and starvation. They don’t have any form of self-reliance and does not have any chance of getting equitable opportunities for education, health and basic services.

These are some of the observations from the interactions with the communities in the year long Jan Satyagrah Samvad yatra which started on 2nd October from Kanyakumari and being led by Ekta Parishad at national level and AP Alliance for Land at state level.

We would like to share these observations with eminent people like you and discuss on the response of the media and various civil society organisations in this context in advancing the pro-poor land reforms agenda. We request you to make it convenient to attend this round table meeting where in several civil society members and senior media representatives are participating. The meeting time is between 10:30 a.m -1:30 p.m in the Meeting hall (ground floor) of Sundariah Vignana Kendram, Baghlingampally, Hyderabad.

 

Looking forward for your participation in the meeting

 

With regards,

 

CH. Ravi Kumar

On behalf of Organising committee, Bhumikosam Ikya Sanghatana and JAN SATYAGRAHA

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

EKTA PARISHAD, is an organisation with the presence in several states which had taken up a campaign on land rights to the poor in 2007 called Janadesh. As part of it 25,000 landless poor, particularly adivasis walked more than 300 k.m from Gwalior to Delhi and demanded the central government for the policies that provide land to the poor. Government responding to the demands had formed a committee called State Agrarian Relations and unfinished task of land reforms. As part of this process a council was also set up with Prime Minister as chairperson. Though the committee has given its recommendations in 2008 nothing has happened in last three years and not even a single meeting was held of the council. This shows the lack of seriousness of the government on land reforms. To put pressure on the government to act on its own promise and implement the recommendations of the committee as well as mobilise public opinion towards that objective, this year long Samvad yatra is being undertaken. After this yatra in October 2012 one lakh people will walk from Gwalior to Delhi as a last resort (Jan Satyagrah) to demand the government to change its policies and democratise the access and ownership of the land and livelihood resources.

 

Alliance for Land – AP (Bhumikosam – Ikya Sanghatana) is a collective of several organisations working to secure land rights to the poor in Andhra Pradesh.  Alliance for Land is coordinating the 16 day yatra covering 16 districts (Chittoor, Nellore, Prakasam, Guntur, Krishna, West Godavari, Khammam, Warangal, Karimnagar, Nalgonda, Hyderabad, Medak, Ranga Reddy, Mahabubnagar, Kurnool and Anantapur) from 2nd November to 17thNovember.

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————————          

ORGANSING COMMITTE, BHUMIKOSAM – IKYA SANGHATANA

A.P Vyavasaya Vrittidarula Union, Dalit Bahujan Front, A.P Mahila Samatha Society, A.P Dalita Samakhya, Adivasi Sanghala Samakhya, Adivasi Sankshema Parishad, Natwan Sangham, Shramika Sakthi Sanghatana, Yanadi Samakhya, Dalita Bahujana Vyavasaya Karmika sangham,

 Rytu Swarajya Vedika

Jairam Ramesh keen to bring Land Reforms Bill in Parliament

http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/jairam-ramesh-keen-to-bring-land-reforms-bill/1/150949.html

Ashish Sinha New Delhi, September 12, 2011 | UPDATED 18:57 IST

After introducing the land acquisition Bill in Parliament last week, Union Rural Development minister Jairam Ramesh now plans to address the vexed and sensitive issue of land reforms, including the revision of land ceiling limits, in a big way.

In a radical move, the minister has proposed that ‘absentee landlords’ should own only half the quantum of land as compared to the ceiling fixed for normal landowners.

“Absentee landlords and non-resident landowners may be clearly defined. This may be communicated to the states and Union Territories for consideration,” Ramesh has proposed.

This recommendation, along with many others, would be taken up at the first meeting of National Council for Land Reforms (NCLR), headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in early October.

The NCLR was set up in January 2008 for “providing broad guidelines and policy direction on land reforms”. Although “land reforms” and “agriculture” are state subjects, the need for a ‘National Land Reforms Policy’ has been felt for evolving a uniform approach to the issue.

Ramesh is the ex-officio chairman of the ‘committee on state agrarian relations and the unfinished task in land reforms’, an issue the Prime Minister had asked to undertake a detailed study of.

Just distribution of land has remained an unaccomplished task in India although most states had enacted land reform laws in the 1950s with the twin objectives of abolishing ‘lanlordism’ and providing ‘land to the tiller’.

An early ‘task force’ of Planning Commission had identified lack of political will, inadequate land policy, legal hurdles, litigation, lack of correct land records and weak administrative machinery as the main reason for sluggish movement on the issue. It had, in fact, cited an apathetic bureaucracy as a major hurdle to speedy land reforms since elements of the post-Independence officialdom were closely aligned with the landed classes.

This class had turned into benami landowners and continued to illegally maintain its stronghold over large tracts of land in most states. Later, as these members migrated from rural areas, the phenomenon of “absentee landlordism” and bataidari (share-cropping) gained currency.

While West Bengal, Kerala, Tripura and Karnataka made significant strides in land reforms by putting it in the ‘operation’ mode, the position of ‘feudal’ states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, etc. , is far from satisfactory.

‘Raigad votes against SEZ in referendum’

http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/2008/09/23/stories/2008092352471000.htm

Mumbai, Sept. 22 A majority of people in the 22 villages in Raigad district have voted against the SEZ in the referendum process which was held on Sunday, claimed Mr N.D. Patil, senior leader of Peasants and Workers Party of India, who is spearheading the agitation.

The State Government is likely to announce the result of the referendum in next 15 days.

The promoters of Maha Mumbai SEZ, which includes promoters of Reliance Industries Ltd, want to set up 10,000 hectares SEZ in the district.

SEZ is expected to attract an investment of nearly Rs 40,000 crore and generate 20 lakh jobs.

Mr Patil said that although the Maharashtra Government has undertaken the referendum process, it is not necessary that the report would be tabled any time in the near future.

“When under pressure, the State Government acts in a circular manner.

“The report could be further handed over to a committee, which will take the further circuitous route,” he said.

Mr Patil said that the people of the district do not want SEZ and no amount of compensation from the corporate houses and government will change their view about selling their land.

A senior official in the industries department said that in the eventuality of referendum going against the promoters of the SEZ, the land acquisition process for the other mega projects and SEZs in the State will suffer.

“We will not be mute spectators; we are also prepared for a court battle,” Mr Patil said.

Raigad villagers participate in referendum on Reliance project
21 Sep, 2008, 1717 hrs IST, IANS

 

PEN/MUMBAI: Thousands of villagers around Pen area in Maharashtra’s Raigad district Sunday took part in a referendum to decide the fate of Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Group’s proposed Special Economic Zone (SEZ).
District Collector Vinayak Nipun and Superintendent of Police Pradeep Digavkar were present to monitor the referendum – the country’s first on an industrial project – even as a huge security blanket covered Pen, around 150 km from Mumbai, a police official told IANS.
Residents of 22 villagers who will be affected by the Reliance Group’s mega-project came out in substantial numbers to give their verdict on the SEZ.
During the referendum, a small group of people at one village opposed to the project and raised anti-Reliance and anti-government slogans.
Around 10,000 farmers from these villages are reluctant to part with 3,415 hectares of land for the project, touted to be Asia’s largest.
Through the referendum, the district administration is ascertaining their views and recording their statements, which will be forwarded to the state government.
The villagers’ sentiments shall be taken into consideration before deciding whether the proposed Rs.400-billion (Rs.40,000-crore) project can come up in that region or not.
A district official said the outcome of Sunday’s referendum may be available only by early October.
The Reliance SEZ is slated to come up over 10,000 hectares in Pen, Uran and Panvel sub-districts of Raigad. However, the group has faced stiff resistance from the people of Pen, necessitating the referendum.
Meanwhile, Shiv Sena executive president Udhav Thackeray has offered to secure a better financial deal for farmers willing to sell their land for the SEZ.
He made the offer to a delegation of villagers that called on him in Mumbai two days ago and conveyed the sentiments of the local population regarding the SEZ.

Singur, Nandigram and Industrialisation of West Bengal-II

http://pd.cpim.org/2007/0128/01282007_nilotpal.htm

Nilotpal Basu

THE SEZ QUESTION AND NANDIGRAM

There has been extensive coverage on the stand of the Left parties on the current SEZ policy of the government in these columns. The major areas of our disagreement with the extant policy pertain to nature of the land use, extent of land use, the tax package and the rehabilitation package. The design of the current package of the government has undergone a qualitative change when SEZ rules were framed under the Act and process of approvals which has led to sanctions being given to 237 SEZ proposals.

This huge number immediately brings to the fore the contrast with China which had successfully executed the SEZ approach to ensure investment and employment generation. The total number of SEZs in China is only 6 and they are concentrated on manufacturing exports by linking these zones to physical infrastructure like port and other transport facilities. 

In India, apart from the already sanctioned 237 SEZs, the Board of Approval gave the ‘in-principle’ approval for another 166 SEZs within less than a year of the promulgation of the SEZ rules. A scan of the number and nature of these SEZs reveal a clear-cut picture of regional and sectoral imbalance. Of the 237 sanctioned SEZ proposals, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamilnadu account for 147 SEZs which is 60 per cent of the total sanctions. Again, 148 out of the 237 SEZs approved so far are in the IT sector. Further, preliminary studies are also revealing a major possibility of real estate activities in many of these proposed and sanctioned SEZs instead of actual manufacturing/processing activities which would have been desirable from employment generation point of view.

The crux of the difference between the government, on the one hand, and the Left parties, on the other, is on the nature of investment. Unless investments lead to production and employment generation, the stated objective of the SEZ policy will stand defeated. On the other hand, the present situation poses the danger of investment flowing into financial activities which can, at best, heat up the economy without any corresponding employment generation – a classic example of ‘jobless growth’. 

Nandigram in East Midnapur district of West Bengal is one of the seven SEZs sanctioned in West Bengal. The proposed SEZ will develop a mega chemical hub. The choice of this mega chemical hub in the Haldia region is the result of a long exercise undertaken by the government of India where this venue was chosen alongwith four other sites in the country. With the existing petroleum refinery of the IOC, the petrochemical plant at Haldia in the joint sector and the huge facility of Mitsubishi chemicals, this decision to have the mega chemical hub located here was a natural conclusion. Incidentally, the Haldia petrochemicals have led to 700 units in the downstream providing an employment to over 1 lakh people. The government of West Bengal has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Indian Oil Corporation to be an anchor investor for the project, while the Salim group will be the promoter for building the infrastructure. The Salim group will also build a 100 km six-lane expressway bypassing Kolkata and the new township at Rajarhat and Salt Lake, the eastern satellites. The expressway will be a major link and part of the central backbone of the road network in the state linking Darjeeling Hills in the north to the Sagar islands in the south. The expressway will also link to a bridge over Hooghly river which will connect South 24 Parganas and East Midnapur in the Haldia township.

Beyond this, there has been virtually no other progress towards the Nandigram SEZ. It has to be pointed out that unlike largely real estate-driven activities in the SEZs in other parts of the country, the West Bengal government has maintained and sponsored proposals for SEZs where 50 per cent of the total land will be used for actual industrial-processing activities with major emphasis on employment generation. 25 per cent of the land will be related to social infrastructure of this real economic activity. This position of the West Bengal government is identical to the position taken by the Left at all India level. The proposed SEZ at Nandigram will strictly adhere to this basis.

These columns have published the statement of the central committee of the CPI(M) describing the actual incidents in Nandigram. It is true that a particular document circulated by the Haldia Development Authority (HDA) had created confusion. The chief minister of West Bengal has categorically stated that no cognisance of that document need to be taken and that no progress on the project will take place until after widest possible consultations are held with elected representatives in the panchayat and the people of the area. As there has been no survey done and consultations held, the question of land acquisition does not arise before these processes take place. People’s Democracy has also editorially commented on the document by HDA. In any case, under the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act, HDA does not have the executive authority to notify acquisition.

Given these facts, therefore, the situation in Nandigram needs to be brought back to normal. Right now, roads, bridges and culverts remain disrupted with urgent need for repairing them. There is obstruction in doing that. This is putting the entire population in the four gram panchayat where incidents had taken place to great trouble.

It is only when such normalcy returns that a proper discourse on Nandigram SEZ can take place. There is no doubt that land acquisition will only take place if a credible plan for improving the quality of life and livelihood can be put forth. This is the overall approach of the CPI(M). 

Having stated all these, it is difficult not to comment on the nature of political forces that have come together in Nandigram. This conglomeration with BJP on the extreme right to the various naxalite groups on the extreme left, to put it most mildly, is strange and unprincipled. It is also important to note that distinctions need to be made between legitimate protest and planned violence.

With passage of time, all the pros and cons of the mega chemical hub project will be discussed and debated. No doubt, the compelling reason for any such project in the state will be premised on the question of employment generation and improving the lot of the poor and disadvantaged sections. As stated earlier, the Left Front had anticipated the need for such a project on the eve of the last elections. Therefore, the Left Front election manifesto had clearly stated: “Industrial parks have been decided to be set up in the task of modernising the traditional labour-intensive industries, and to make them competitive. Parks will be set up for foundry, jute, rubber, garments, textile, iron & steel, chemicals polymer, light engineering, and food” and “A minimum of four big industrial taluka and special economic zones will be set up in the state”.

It is with this manifesto that the Left Front had approached the electorate in the 2006 assembly elections. And, it is on the basis of such plans for the future that the Left received its massive mandate. Many personalities from different parts of the country who have now taken positions on the principles on which the state government is functioning may not be aware of the electoral commitments of the Left Front nor the nature of the mandate of the people. So far as the specifics of the project are concerned, no doubt, concerns will be addressed. 

PARTISANSHIP WITH THE POOR

The Left Front government in West Bengal has come back to office for the seventh time. This is unprecedented in the history of electoral politics of the country. The principle underlying reason has been the fact that the government has been partisan – partisan towards the poor. Lakhs of acres of land h
as been redistributed among the rural poor. Thousands of CPI(M) leaders and activists have laid down their lives to achieve the advance and empowerment of the poor in the state. And, it is with their support that the Left Front is trying to improve the overall economic situation in the state and develop industries. It will be foolhardy to assume that the CPI(M) can relinquish the achievements that the peopleof the state have scored. 

There is no conflict between agriculture and industry. But the nature of the industry, the manner in which it takes place is not completely under the control of the state government. In the present age of globalisation, the major direction of neo-liberal policies is aimed at de-industrialisation in third world economies. In the face of this, industrial development, particularly in manufacturing and processing sectors, is, in itself, a struggle against those policies. It is true that private corporate’s way of viewing industries and that of the Left will differ. Marx and Lenin had written a lot on this in the context of Luddites and Narodniks. The working class does not demand the closing down of an industry because it exploits them, they work for changing the nature of the ownership. As communists, we know that socialism is the future, and, therefore, the improvement of the material basis of the economic activities is important. But these struggles cannot overlook the specifics of the immediate context. The struggle for industrialisation in West Bengal will continue without giving up the struggle for consolidating and further improving agriculture in the state. The bottom line is the constant need for improving the conditions of the working people – be they in the rural areas or in cities. And, the lesson of learning from the people will never be forgotten. 

(Concluded)

Singur, Nandigram and Industrialisation of West Bengal-II

http://pd.cpim.org/2007/0128/01282007_nilotpal.htm

Nilotpal Basu

THE SEZ QUESTION AND NANDIGRAM

There has been extensive coverage on the stand of the Left parties on the current SEZ policy of the government in these columns. The major areas of our disagreement with the extant policy pertain to nature of the land use, extent of land use, the tax package and the rehabilitation package. The design of the current package of the government has undergone a qualitative change when SEZ rules were framed under the Act and process of approvals which has led to sanctions being given to 237 SEZ proposals.

This huge number immediately brings to the fore the contrast with China which had successfully executed the SEZ approach to ensure investment and employment generation. The total number of SEZs in China is only 6 and they are concentrated on manufacturing exports by linking these zones to physical infrastructure like port and other transport facilities.

In India, apart from the already sanctioned 237 SEZs, the Board of Approval gave the ‘in-principle’ approval for another 166 SEZs within less than a year of the promulgation of the SEZ rules. A scan of the number and nature of these SEZs reveal a clear-cut picture of regional and sectoral imbalance. Of the 237 sanctioned SEZ proposals, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamilnadu account for 147 SEZs which is 60 per cent of the total sanctions. Again, 148 out of the 237 SEZs approved so far are in the IT sector. Further, preliminary studies are also revealing a major possibility of real estate activities in many of these proposed and sanctioned SEZs instead of actual manufacturing/processing activities which would have been desirable from employment generation point of view.

The crux of the difference between the government, on the one hand, and the Left parties, on the other, is on the nature of investment. Unless investments lead to production and employment generation, the stated objective of the SEZ policy will stand defeated. On the other hand, the present situation poses the danger of investment flowing into financial activities which can, at best, heat up the economy without any corresponding employment generation – a classic example of ‘jobless growth’.

Nandigram in East Midnapur district of West Bengal is one of the seven SEZs sanctioned in West Bengal. The proposed SEZ will develop a mega chemical hub. The choice of this mega chemical hub in the Haldia region is the result of a long exercise undertaken by the government of India where this venue was chosen alongwith four other sites in the country. With the existing petroleum refinery of the IOC, the petrochemical plant at Haldia in the joint sector and the huge facility of Mitsubishi chemicals, this decision to have the mega chemical hub located here was a natural conclusion. Incidentally, the Haldia petrochemicals have led to 700 units in the downstream providing an employment to over 1 lakh people. The government of West Bengal has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Indian Oil Corporation to be an anchor investor for the project, while the Salim group will be the promoter for building the infrastructure. The Salim group will also build a 100 km six-lane expressway bypassing Kolkata and the new township at Rajarhat and Salt Lake, the eastern satellites. The expressway will be a major link and part of the central backbone of the road network in the state linking Darjeeling Hills in the north to the Sagar islands in the south. The expressway will also link to a bridge over Hooghly river which will connect South 24 Parganas and East Midnapur in the Haldia township.

Beyond this, there has been virtually no other progress towards the Nandigram SEZ. It has to be pointed out that unlike largely real estate-driven activities in the SEZs in other parts of the country, the West Bengal government has maintained and sponsored proposals for SEZs where 50 per cent of the total land will be used for actual industrial-processing activities with major emphasis on employment generation. 25 per cent of the land will be related to social infrastructure of this real economic activity. This position of the West Bengal government is identical to the position taken by the Left at all India level. The proposed SEZ at Nandigram will strictly adhere to this basis.

These columns have published the statement of the central committee of the CPI(M) describing the actual incidents in Nandigram. It is true that a particular document circulated by the Haldia Development Authority (HDA) had created confusion. The chief minister of West Bengal has categorically stated that no cognisance of that document need to be taken and that no progress on the project will take place until after widest possible consultations are held with elected representatives in the panchayat and the people of the area. As there has been no survey done and consultations held, the question of land acquisition does not arise before these processes take place. People’s Democracy has also editorially commented on the document by HDA. In any case, under the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act, HDA does not have the executive authority to notify acquisition.

Given these facts, therefore, the situation in Nandigram needs to be brought back to normal. Right now, roads, bridges and culverts remain disrupted with urgent need for repairing them. There is obstruction in doing that. This is putting the entire population in the four gram panchayat where incidents had taken place to great trouble.

It is only when such normalcy returns that a proper discourse on Nandigram SEZ can take place. There is no doubt that land acquisition will only take place if a credible plan for improving the quality of life and livelihood can be put forth. This is the overall approach of the CPI(M).

Having stated all these, it is difficult not to comment on the nature of political forces that have come together in Nandigram. This conglomeration with BJP on the extreme right to the various naxalite groups on the extreme left, to put it most mildly, is strange and unprincipled. It is also important to note that distinctions need to be made between legitimate protest and planned violence.

With passage of time, all the pros and cons of the mega chemical hub project will be discussed and debated. No doubt, the compelling reason for any such project in the state will be premised on the question of employment generation and improving the lot of the poor and disadvantaged sections. As stated earlier, the Left Front had anticipated the need for such a project on the eve of the last elections. Therefore, the Left Front election manifesto had clearly stated: “Industrial parks have been decided to be set up in the task of modernising the traditional labour-intensive industries, and to make them competitive. Parks will be set up for foundry, jute, rubber, garments, textile, iron & steel, chemicals polymer, light engineering, and food” and “A minimum of four big industrial taluka and special economic zones will be set up in the state”.

It is with this manifesto that the Left Front had approached the electorate in the 2006 assembly elections. And, it is on the basis of such plans for the future that the Left received its massive mandate. Many personalities from different parts of the country who have now taken positions on the principles on which the state government is functioning may not be aware of the electoral commitments of the Left Front nor the nature of the mandate of the people. So far as the specifics of the project are concerned, no doubt, concerns will be addressed.

PARTISANSHIP WITH THE POOR

The Left Front government in West Bengal has come back to office for the seventh time. This is unprecedented in the history of electoral politics of the country. The principle underlying reason has been the fact that the government has been partisan – partisan towards the poor. Lakhs of acres of land has been redistributed among the rural poor. Thousands of CPI(M) leaders and activists have laid down their lives to achieve the advance and empowerment of the poor in the state. And, it is with their support that the Left Front is trying to improve the overall economic situation in the state and develop industries. It will be foolhardy to assume that the CPI(M) can relinquish the achievements that the peopleof the state have scored.

There is no conflict between agriculture and industry. But the nature of the industry, the manner in which it takes place is not completely under the control of the state government. In the present age of globalisation, the major direction of neo-liberal policies is aimed at de-industrialisation in third world economies. In the face of this, industrial development, particularly in manufacturing and processing sectors, is, in itself, a struggle against those policies. It is true that private corporate’s way of viewing industries and that of the Left will differ. Marx and Lenin had written a lot on this in the context of Luddites and Narodniks. The working class does not demand the closing down of an industry because it exploits them, they work for changing the nature of the ownership. As communists, we know that socialism is the future, and, therefore, the improvement of the material basis of the economic activities is important. But these struggles cannot overlook the specifics of the immediate context. The struggle for industrialisation in West Bengal will continue without giving up the struggle for consolidating and further improving agriculture in the state. The bottom line is the constant need for improving the conditions of the working people – be they in the rural areas or in cities. And, the lesson of learning from the people will never be forgotten.

(Concluded)

The Question of Displacement and the Call for an United Battle

http://dsujnu.blogspot.com/2007/01/question-of-dis…

The natural and legal rights of the people are being trampled on a scale unprecedented in post-1947 India. Successive governments at the centre would call this the needed drive for a New India marching forward in the 21st century as a major power. Development and Security are the twin needs of the Brave New World in which India and the sub-continent of South Asia is a vital cog. This development can only happen with the massive inflow of Foreign Direct Investment in the form of Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs), Foreign Institutional Investments (FII). Inequality has been considered as a necessary condition for mobilising savings and capital formation. To envisage the provision of infrastructure in the form of transport, communication, power, services etc. While it will give windfall profits to the imperialist multinationals and their domestic allies—big business houses, bureaucrats, politicians, et al, the masses have become further impoverished.
A decade-and-a-half of these policies have, pushed more than one lakh peasants to suicide. Massive unemployment have further impoverished an already devastated people in both rural and urban areas and marginalized millions.
The second wave of ‘economic reforms’ is a violent assault on the right to life and livelihood of the masses. Apart from continuing the ‘development’ driven through big dams, super highways and other infrastructural projects, the new phase of accumulation of capital involves gigantic mining projects, Special Economic Zones (SEZs), urban renewal and beautification.
Displacement as ‘Development’
All these policies are being implemented in the name of ‘development’, ‘modernization’, taking India into the club of elite countries. This is no doubt ‘development’, of a particular kind. It is the model of ‘development’ that gives gigantic amounts of wealth to the super-rich (foreign and Indian) while increasingly impoverishing more and more people. It is unmitigated loot of all our natural wealth and mineral resources on a scale never witnessed before. It is development OF and FOR the market; FOR the creation of a market based on the expenditure OF the very rich together with a growing upper middle class who live off crumbs thrown off the table of the super-rich. This development of displacement have pervaded the entire spectrum of diverse production of material life of the sub-continent—from hunters and gatherers, pastorals, shifting cultivators, forest dwellers especially in protected areas like sanctuaries, traditional cultivators, advanced farmers, trading centres, service and industrial centres, towns and cities. All the four dreaded Ds are fast engulfing our societies—Displacement, Disorganisation, Destitution and Decimation.
Massive Mining Projects of MNCs: Opening the Veins of South Asia
The mining projects in just the states of Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh entail investments of about Rs.5 lakh crores. Some 20 percent of the tribal people have already been uprooted from their homes. The resource rich region of Dandakaranya and its vicinity in the states of Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and the adjoining areas in West Bengal, Vidharbha and eastern Madhya Pradesh account for more than three fourth of the total mineral wealth of India. On a smaller scale, mining projects are also coming up in all the states wherever there is some wealth to extract. The regions within these states that have been set aside as prospective areas rich in mineral wealth such as coal, iron ore, bauxite, diamonds, uranium, thorium etc. is inhabited by the poorest of the poor in India. Hundreds of MoUs have been signed by the government with various Multinational Corporations and Indian Monopolies. Much of the mineral wealth is exported while the rest is used to serve the palatial needs of India’s neo-rich. New laws are being enacted to undo the rights of the people over these resources. The better known examples are the Indian Forest Act, Indian Fisheries Act, Indian Mineral Act, and various Urban Development Acts. In the process, lakhs and lakhs will be displaced—not only will their land and forests be seized, but also their livelihood, their right to a dignified existence destroyed.
Special Economic Zones (SEZs): Enclaves of Foreign Occupation:
The rural areas in India are facing massive unemployment due to lack of opportunities. A backlash of the state policy of opening up of the markets to monopolies. The traditional crafts have collapsed as machine goods are flooding the rural markets. The labour displacing machines have reduced the labour input per acre to less than one-third compared to the post-47 situation. Even in the so-called Employment Generation Programmes of the government commission agents and contractors are on to make a fast buck by using machines. Moreover a large part of the land is held by the absentee owners which results in a heavy drain of current income of the rural economy. These absentee land owners are prone to sell away their lands for profit. The crisis in the rural scenario is further exemplified with the abysmally low entitlement for work in agriculture hovering around 30 rupees a day. The ‘educated youth’ who are rather the deskilled force in rural India are not ready to soil their hands for such a low pay. The massive alienation of people in the rural areas from their current means of livelihood with no worthwhile substitute in sight is imminent.
The Special Economic Zones have been showcased as the panacea for skyrocketing unemployment and lack of opportunities in the urban and rural regions in India. These zones throughout the country will create enclosures where no laws of the land would hold. This tantamount to a modern form of the East India Company; foreign enclaves within the territory of the country which facilitates the SEZs. Even conservative estimates of the RBI projects a loss of about Rs.1.7 lakh crores in revenue for the Indian government over the next four years due to the Special Economic Zones. But the worst hit will be the rural populace whose prime lands are being forcibly seized. Lakhs of acres have already been taken over and every day new announcements come of more and more SEZs being granted permission. In the much hyped ‘Green Revolution’ belts of Haryana and Punjab where the suicide deaths of farmers are the order of the day, farmers who are deep in debt are even ready to take whatever crumbs thrown by the government as compensation for the acquired land. In fact this has proved to be the last straw on the farmer’s back leading to large scale alienation of land and unabating strings of suicides. The man made crisis is so acute in the Green Revolution pockets that for the farmer to hold on to the farming land as a viable enterprise has become an unenviable task.
There is no economic incentive for the farmer to continue agriculture in these lands. The government has refused to look into the root causes of agriculture being rendered non-viable as the insidious policy of the state. Instead it legalised the practice of usury by credit institution including even the cooperatives through the ingenious legal jugglery of excluding them from the very definition of moneylenders. In 1947, 70 per cent of the people in India were engaged in agriculture and allied activities. Their share in the Gross National Income was 65 percent. According to the Farmer’s Commission while the number of persons in the above category has marginally declined from 70 to 65 percent, their share in the National Income has nose dived to 20 percent. The projections of Vision 2020 envisages only a 6 percent share for the 60 percent depending on agriculture.
Already unofficial estimates show that more than 300 SEZs are on the pipeline. As per official estimates about 35-40% of existing industry and finance (including IT secto
r) will move to these enclaves to avail of the tax-free profits that these havens allow. The government talks much trash of generating employment but the reality is that it is mostly existing business that will shift location to these SEZs to avail of the huge benefits.
Urban ‘Visions’: Fortifying Urban Spaces for Free Exploitation of Monopoly Capital
Global policy advisory groups like the Mckinsey from the US is formulating and pushing the initiatives of organising and streamlining the urban spaces under the camouflage of urban beautification. This streamlining of the urban spaces offers minimum security risk for the operational needs of foreign and local capital in these areas.
It not only entails marginalizing the already impoverished poor, it is even hitting at the middle classes, small traders and industries. Lakhs of slum-dwellers have already been pushed out in the process. Small retailers must be crushed (as in Delhi) in order to make way for giant retailers like Reliance, Wal-Mart and a host of others; small scale industries must be pushed out, not only to ‘clean up’ the cities, but also to allow big business to widen its captive-market reach.
Urban ‘Visions’, with their creation of infrastructural and beautification projects for the elite is wrecking havoc in all the main cities of the country. The main metropolitan cities are the hub of operations of the money-bags. They demand all the best facilities in the form of infrastructure and entertainment. Dance bars in Mumbai must be forcibly closed so that 5-star cabarets thrive. And the beautification must proceed apace so that the rich and powerful can enjoy their ill-gotten wealth without the ‘polluting’ effect of the poor who are further ghettoised.
Thus 21st Century India means mega dams, mammoth power plants, oil and gas pipelines, super highways, flyovers, golf courses, fancy clubs and tourist resorts, national parks, malls, theme parks…
North East Power Grid: Development as Domination or Development as Counterinsurgency
The entire region of the North East will be inundated with no less than 168 mega-dams with a cumulative capacity to generate 100000 Megawatts of power. Only 5000 megawatts would be utilised in the entire region which has been witnessing various struggles for the right to self-determination of the peoples in this region. The rest of the power generated (95000 megawatts) would go to satiate the needs of the Southeast Asian market. The region has been often cited as a fragile zone prone to earthquakes. The surfeit of big dams under the garb of development will endanger the fragile eco-zone of this region not to say that it will totally subvert the cultural, political, social specificities of the various peoples of this region who will be displaced from their very territory which is central in their struggle for their right to self-determination. Many of their indigenous institutions also would be destroyed in this process.
Along with this is the plan to link the entire region of the North East with the Southeast Asian market by road. There are also efforts to combine the markets of these regions with separate market regime principles to make them as combined economic regions. The super highway that is being built from North Bengal to the Mekong Valley under the much hyped ‘Look East Policy’ is a definite step in this direction which is nothing but ‘Development’ as counterinsurgency.
Displacement as State Building
Already, the logic and the necessity of this kind of a development has been stated. But there is a method to this madness that is being parotted by policy pundits as ‘development’.
The question that has often been debated among the western academia and the ‘nation builders’ foreign and desi is that whether resources are at the centre of ‘conflicts’ in poor countries like India, Afghanistan or countries in Africa and Latin America. In a series of studies supported by the World Bank and as the result of a broad statistical analysis of virtually all civil wars since the mid-1960s it was concluded that the causes for conflicts cannot be due to the existing rulers, economic mismanagement, political rights or levels of ethnic homogeneity or heterogeneity. These studies concluded that economic factors were crucial. It emphasised that countries that were highly dependent on the export of primary commodities and were populated by large numbers of young men, with limited or no education were also highly susceptible to civil conflict and political instability. These ‘hordes’ of poorly educated youths and readily accessible resources were particularly susceptible to civil conflict and the emergence of rebels driven primarily by powerful economic (‘greed’) need to use violence to acquire wealth. Thus as per this logic the need of the hour is to promote ‘development’ for ‘security’ and ‘stability’.
The resources in these regions have to be extracted for ‘development’. The poorly educated youths have to be transformed through ‘capacity building’ with the help of ‘modern’ institutions of ‘good governance’. Hence in the North East and other regions such as Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh tribal institutions of governance are deemed unfit to empower the tribal youth. There are already projects supported by London School of Economics and other premier institutions from the West being undertaken in India by NGOs and a section of the academia which are promoting the process of ‘institution building’ for facilitating ‘good governance’. Premier institutions in India are also including courses on Good Governance, Peace and Reconciliation through which there is an effort to decontextualise and reduce the real reasons underlying the socio-economic plight of the vast sections of the various peoples in the sub-continent.
Thus the model of ‘development’ that is being promoted under the aegis of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation creates a greater class of rentiers, retainers, pimps, prostitutes, servants, lumpens, etc—a growing class of hangers-on, all at the service of this neo-rich generated in the process. It destroys the bulk of the agrarian masses; displaces millions from permanent employment and generates in its place thousands of temporary and contract jobs for a pittance; drives the bulk of the middle classes to destitution while accommodating a small section into the elite club. Significantly, it displaces lakhs and lakhs of people from their land and all possible source of livelihood. It is a ‘development’ of the destruction of people, natural resources not to say environment with the complete support of the violent state machinery, including the judiciary and the executive.
The ‘victims’ of these development projects are projected as a liability as they are unable to fit into the mutational changes that have been forcefully brought into their productive labour. They found their way into their familiar forest home where they deemed to be intruders or on to the cities as beasts of burden, rickshaw pullers, or as commodities for the flourishing ‘flesh market’.
This ‘development’ also brings with it an increasingly fascistic state as the extremes of rich and poor are creating acute social tension with the masses having no other alternative than militant resistance. The intensifying contradiction between the rich and the poor, between regions, between various peoples, communities have made it a necessity for the state to resort to a combination of brutal repression and numerous diversionary tactics. Both fascist repression and diversionary tactics of Hindutva communal hysteria are also an outcome of the existing policies of this model of development.

What then could be the alternative?

The only alternative can be a model that really enhances the well-being of the vast masses, preserves the people’s natural wealth, and protects its environment. That builds the domestic market for commodities by enhancing th
e purchasing power of the masses and thereby becoming the motor for industrial growth and development of the economy; which is holistic, serving both the needs of the people and environment. A model of development that is equitable, just, and humane.
But such an alternative is not possible without, opposing tooth-and-nail, the present model of development. There can be no half-way measures as the present model is an integrated whole, with each aspect linked to the other, all serving to extract maximum profit for the imperialists and their hangers-on in the country. Whether it is the mining projects, or the schemes for the SEZs, or the infrastructural developmental projects, or that of urban ‘renewal’—all are part and parcel of the present phase of ‘economic reforms’ inspired by globalization. These are nothing but a continuation of the earlier phase of ‘economic reforms’ started vigorously in the early 1990s and continuing apace no matter which government has been in power. Any attempt to find formulas of adjustment with the existing polices are doomed to failure as they have their own dynamics dictated by the needs of profit maximization and imperialist loot. There is no other way than to oppose in total all these projects and the policies that facilitate them.
And this challenge calls for a massive movement of the people to resist these projects at the ground level and also awaken the entire country against this model of ruin and penury for the people resulting in more and more enslavement to the imperialist exploitative machine, particularly the US. The various peoples of the region need to be aroused against the imperialists and their local lackeys who are selling the wealth of the people for a few dollars.
What then is the alternative model of development?
· It is a people oriented model based on a self-reliant economy free from enslavement by imperialism. The polices of development must, first-and-foremost, develop the well-being of the masses and must be in their interest—not at their cost.
· The natural wealth of the country must only be extracted to the extent that it serves the needs of the mass of people—neither for imperialist loot nor for the extravagant infrastructural needs of these money-bags. Not only should the SEZ policy be totally reversed but the emphasis must be on developing indigenous industry, protecting labour rights, and introducing land reforms. Land must not go to the big industrialists and imperialists through the SEZ policy but be redistributed to the landless and poor.
· Infrastructural development must also be people oriented where the prime need and immediate priorities are health care, hygiene and education.
· Environmental regeneration must be an important factor in this model which has been destroyed by rapacious rape of the environment for profit and the green revolution–type polices—this by extensive reforestation, scientific water management (inclusive of lakhs of small water projects) and top-soil regeneration.
· In this new model of development all decisions must be made by the people themselves at the grass-root level and built upwards in a genuine form of people’s government. It is the people themselves who know best what type of development is in their interest and what is harmful. They are the best to decide their future. For this they must take the future into their own hands and wrest control of it from the hands of the money-bags and their agents. This alone can assure all-round growth and not its ruin and destruction as is happening today.
· There should be also be resistance to build on a short term, people’s sectors which would have the negotiating power and will to initiate short-term relief measures for the vast sections of the masses while fighting the state.
But to build this new model it first requires an uncompromising opposition to the present model and all the policies that are coming up. For this, there is need to build a huge movement against displacement and the very model of development itself. All genuine democratic and anti-imperialist forces should unite to create a tornado of dissent that forces the rulers to stop this juggernaut trampling the lives of the people of the Sub-continent.
DSU invites you to be a part of an effort to build a countrywide movement against displacement, against forceful state/private takeover of people’s resources: land, water, forests…

RURAL BENGAL'S PUZZLE: Villages consume very little although they are producing more

OMKAR GOSWAMI

The Telegraph, 10 August 2004

There is a long-standing belief in West Bengal that agrarian reforms — which began with Operation Barga in the late Seventies — have raised agricultural productivity and rural incomes. The political adjunct of this economic tenet is that so long as agrarian Bengal does well, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) will continue to sweep the rural constituencies one election after the other.

That there has been a statistically significant increase in agricultural productivity between the Seventies and the Nineties is well established. A recent example is the work of Abhijit Banerji of the Massachussetts Institute of Technology and his co-authors. They not only demonstrate that agricultural productivity in West Bengal has increased more than in agronomically similar tracts of land in neighbouring Bangladesh, but also show that the differential has much to do with agrarian reforms.

Broad macroeconomic evidence also suggests a steady increase in income from agriculture. In 1993-94, West Bengal’s GDP from agriculture at constant prices was Rs 14,816 crore. By 2000-01, it was up to Rs 18,177 crore — an impressive growth of 23 per cent in six years.

These numbers are corroborated by evidence on how the state has become a cereal and vegetable granary of India. For instance, in 2001-02, West Bengal accounted for almost 8 per cent of India’s total foodgrain production — something that would have been impossible to imagine two decades ago.

In a milieu of such impressive growth in agricultural productivity and farm incomes, one would ordinarily expect an equally remarkable increase in rural consumption. This is where one gets totally perplexed, and let me explain why.

Every year, the National Sample Survey conducts extensive field surveys on consumer expenditure of rural and urban households throughout all states and Union territories. We, at CERG Advisory, have the entire data-set from the beginning of reforms up to 2001-02. And the evidence indicates that rural consumption in West Bengal ranks among some of the worst-off states in the country.

As the graphic shows, rural West Bengal was not wealthy by any stretch of imagination in 1991: the average consumption of rural households was 5.3 per cent less than the all-India figure. If agricultural productivity and rural income grew faster in West Bengal in the Nineties than the national average, then it stands to reason that rural household consumption in the state would have been closer to, or higher than, the all-India mean.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. As the NSS survey for 2001-02 shows, rural household consumption in West Bengal was 9.6 per cent worse than the national average. That’s a significantly poorer performance than in 1991. Therefore, despite the alleged growth in agricultural productivity and output, rural households in West Bengal seem to be relatively worse off than before.

The story is similar when rural consumption is broken down to its constituent elements. The following is such an account for 2001-02.
Consumption of food items as a whole — households in rural West Bengal were 4.1 per cent below the national average.

Consumption of milk, eggs, meat, fish, vegetables and fruits (a sign of transition to greater prosperity) — 2.5 per cent below the all-India average.

Clothing — 10.1 per cent less.
Medical expenditure — 6.8 per cent less.
For non-food items in the aggregate — 20.7 per cent less than the all-India mean.

The only silver lining is expenditure on education. In 2001-02, the average rural family in West Bengal spent 4.5 per cent more on educating its children than the all-India mean. However, at less than Rs 83 per year, that does not translate to much.

The NSS evidence suggests a couple of things that the chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, might wish to consider. First, it shouldn’t be a sign of consolation that household consumption in interior West Bengal is marginally higher than rural Andhra Pradesh or Tamil Nadu. For one, these two southern states, while worse than West Bengal, have improved their relative position over the decade. In contrast, West Bengal’s position has worsened. For another, it doesn’t speak well of a state that lays claim to agrarian dynamism where its rural households consume only 4.3 per cent more than the average rural family in Bihar, 4.6 per cent above Madhya Pradesh and 8.8 per cent more than that abysmally poor state called Orissa. Being clustered with the poor is not something to be proud of.

Therefore, it is worth checking why the growth in agricultural productivity is not translating to proportionately higher rural consumption expenditure. It can’t be explained away by claiming that West Bengal enjoys significantly lower prices of goods and services compared to other states. Clearly, there is a disjunction somewhere, and it needs to be carefully investigated.

I have a tentative hypothesis. While Bengal agriculture has certainly done well, the same cannot be said about the growth of rural, non-agricultural industries. And since almost half the rural population earn their livelihood outside agriculture, the increase in agricultural output hasn’t translated to similar overall consumption growth.

Second, and this is my perennial theme about West Bengal, the government has to do everything in its powers to bring in significant private investment in food processing. It is a shame that a state so blessed with vegetable and foodgrain cultivation should have so little investment in rural-based food processing units. To me, that is investment priority number one. For there may lie the salvation of rural Bengal.

The author is the founder of CERG Advisory, a company specializing in corporate and economic advisory services.He can be reached at omkar.goswami@cergindia.com