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A Better Deal For Farmers

A couple of hours before Congress president Sonia Gandhi joined Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad at the Swabhiman Rally in Patna on Sunday, the ripple effect of their mobilization was felt in New Delhi when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced at his Mann ki Baat that his government would formally pull the plug on the amendments to the land acquisition law it had tried so hard to push through Parliament. Modi said his government would not re-promulgate the ordinance issued for the amendments, which meant that the ordinance would lapse on Monday, which it did.  Fearing the Nitish Kumar-led alliance would drum up support exploiting farmers’ concerns over the amendments, Modi, who was to address a rally in Bihar a day later, obviously did not want to project himself as anti-farmer ahead of Bihar Assembly elections.

The Modi government had amended the UPA’s land acquisition law of 2013 and inserted clauses to make it easier for private enterprises to acquire land. The Congress and other opposition parties mounted a concerted campaign to make the Modi government’s ordinance look like “anti-farmer.” The government was also cornered by its own allies Shiv Sena and the Shiromani Akali Dal as well as RSS organizations such as the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh. For almost a year, the government made every effort to get the amendments passed but it did not succeed. More than the opposition on the floor of the House, what actually made Modi retreat on the amendments was the apprehension arising in the minds of farmers across the country. The apprehensions only got worse with the monsoon turning deficient. The amendments, with the opposition parties stoking the fires in rural India, could have meant a heavy political cost to Modi and the BJP.

In his Mann ki Baat Modi gave enough indication of these fears. He lamented that “misinformation” regarding the bill created a sense of unrest among farmers. No wonder, he was even ready to change the government’s rigid stance to get rid of the anti-farmer tag.  With the withdrawal, Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (RFCTLARR ), the UPA law of 2013 will remain effective. Modi has tried to partly redeem himself by making the existing law better for farmers by also including 13 additional categories for compensation. These categories related to land acquisition for archaeological sites, atomic energy, metro railways, national highways, oil and gas pipelines, coal mining and so on. His retreat is a victory for the farmers whose rights to collective decision making about how their land should be used and to fair compensation and rehabilitation were sought to be curtailed through amendments. Land acquisition is necessary for development, but that should be done by engaging the landowners in a participatory manner, not a coercive manner.

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