We used to be a nation that celebrated people who got things done. Now we celebrate people who stop things getting done.
- George Will (Famous American Journalist)
But is this really so? Is the new amended act truly as ‘Anti Farmer’ has critics allege? Simply put, NO..
The Land Acquisition Bill currently being fiercely opposed in the Lok Sabha is an amended version of the Act introduced by the UPA in 2013. The essence of the previous bill was the clause which mandated that in the case of forced land acquisition the compensation be four times the market value in rural areas, and twice the market value in urban areas. This clause was meant to ensure adequate compensation for farmers. Indeed, the Modi government hasn’t tinkered with this clause while drafting the new Bill. Surely, this cannot be labeled as anti farmer!
Furthermore, the previous Land Acquisition Bill did not cover 13 Major Acts – which meant that if land was to be acquired for any purposes listed in the 13 Acts – then the land would not come under the Land Bill. Thus, the farmer would not be eligible for the high compensations – and other benefits that the Land Bill provided him with. The new amended version brings all of these 13 Acts under the purview of the Land Bill. Is this ‘Anti Farmer’?
The main opposition to what activists call the ‘draconian’ bill results from the fact that it drops the ‘consent’ clause of the Land Act of 2013, if the land is being acquired for one of five exempted purposes. The consent clause of the UPA Act mandated that when land is being acquired - a minimum of 80% consent is necessary. Many economists believe that this makes land acquisition an almost impossible task in India - and is thus detrimental to India’s growth prospects. The new bill quite rightly makes amends to this in so far as five major purposes (national security, defence, rural infrastructure, industrial corridors and housing for the poor) are concerned.
What the ‘Anti Land Bill’ activists fail to realize is that this clause – no doubt controversial – is necessary for infrastructural development. The reason that rural India lags behind Urban India in almost all socio-economic parameters is the lack of infrastructure in large swathes of rural areas. Rural India URGENTLY needs cold storages, canals, modern transport equipment, roads to facilitate quicker transportation of crops, storehouses that can store grain for long period of times – including in the monsoon, modern irrigation systems etc, and all of these need quick land acquisition! For this, dropping the consent clause is just a small sacrifice. In economic terms, the social cost is dwarfed by the possible social benefits!
We need to make Indian Agriculture weather proof – and infrastructural measures such as cold storages and efficient transportation are key steps to achieve this goal. And a simpler land acquisition process goes a long way in making this a reality. If this goal is achieved, it is a win-win for everyone – INCLUDING the farmers! (Perhaps, the only losers would be certain parties whose sole aim has been to keep a section of the country poor so that they can milk them for votes when election come calling).
Apart from the fierce opposition to the land bill, there have been other accusations that the NDA government now faces. Congress’ Crown Prince, Rahul Gandhi – who recently came back from an undisclosed location after ‘recharging his batteries’, which by the way took an excruciatingly long 56 days to recharge – accused the government in his usual hoarse voiced rhetoric of being ‘Pro-Corporate’ and a ‘Suit Boot ki Sarkar’.
In this writers opinion, Rahul Gandhi is as mistaken as he always is. Is it wrong to boost business and investment sentiments in a country? Is it wrong to encourage entrepreneurship – something that can provide employment to many a young Indian – when India needs over 10 lakh jobs every year? Is it wrong to woo corporates to expand their presence in India if it means greater investment opportunities? Yes. Crony Capitalism is bad. But that doesn’t mean that anyone has a right to paint all Corporates in a bad light.
The Gandhi scions second barb on the government being a ‘Suit Boot ki Sarkar’ reeks plainly of a strategy the Congress has mastered over the years, the ploy of dividing Indian society and milking a certain section of this divided society for political mileage. Earlier it used to be Majority Community vs Minority Community, and now they’re trying to make it a ‘rich’ vs ‘poor’ divide.
What the Congress fails to realize is that Governments can help the poor in many ways apart from the tried and tested ways of ‘doles’ and ‘loan waivers’. This writer, a firm believer in non market distorting economic policies is happy to note that the new Government has slowly but surely introduced measures that will benefit the poor without adversely distorting market efficiencies. For example, the Jan Dhan Yojna – a financial inclusion programme – is one of the first steps in ensuring Direct Transfer of Subsidies to a persons bank account. This can surely save the thousands of crores that are currently wasted in the egregiously inefficient subsidy transfer systems currently in place. Other small scale measures – such as cleaning up the bureaucracy, online tracking of environmental clearance processes, online monitoring of bureaucrats activities – combined with long term measures like Digital India, Make in India and Swach Bharat Abhiyan will surely benefit the entire population of India – which also includes the poor!
The Congress has every right to oppose Bills in Parliament - but to do so, just for the sake of political mileage and to use this as an opportunity to ‘re-launch’ their now middle aged scion - as a farmers messiah - is is perhaps the most deplorable thing to do.
It is time that people begin to see things the way they are - instead of being swayed by ‘leaders’ who can only regurgitate facile terms like ‘Anti Farmer’ or ‘Pro - Corporate’. Modern economic policy is a lot more than these overly simplistic terms.
And in the sad event that we begin to be influenced by such terms, and people who recite them- we’d end up celebrating the obstructionists. The very people who stop things from getting done. If not anyone else, George Wills (and not to forget, this writer as well) would certainly be extremely disappointed!
- Tejas Mehta