Several social activists led by Medha Patkar have alleged that the Congress led UPA, instead of progressing from its previous positions has actually retracted to its pre-2006 position through the draft LARR Bill.
“The government has also gone back from the promises made by the UPA Chairperson, Sonia Gandhi, in 2006, while agreeing to the National Advisory Council (NAC) draft of the legislation. The NAC Draft, in hindsight was far more progressive and comprehensive as it referred to the draft legislation for ‘Development Planning, Minimum Displacement and Just Rehabilitation’. It is an irony that Jairam Ramesh, who has introduced this draft, was part of that NAC team,” said the joint press release issued by the activists sitting on a dharna at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi.
Medha Patkar, while addressing the hundreds of agitators who have come from 15 states to participate in the Sangharsh dharna at Jantar Mantar, said, “We are here not to beg, but to ask for what is rightfully ours. Nobody can eat electricity or money. To ensure survival, save agriculture land.” She asked the UPA government to make it clear that the government was keen to repeal the archaic Land Acquisition Act 1894 (LAA) in toto, while propounding a new Land Bill.
The representatives of various social organisations taking part in the dharna have demanded replacement of archaic LAA with a comprehensive National Development Planning Act.
The agitators have invited Jairam Ramesh, the Rural Development Minister, to come to the dharna and hear firsthand what the farmers, adivasis, dalits and other sections of the people who are land-based have to say about their land.
Responding to the draft prepared by Jairam Ramesh, the activists at the dharna said that a ‘comprehensive’ Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, has been a demand of people for the last many decades. “The struggling people across India, from Koel Karo to Nadigram and from Narmada to Kalinga Nagar and Niyamgiri have lots to cheer in what we have in hand,” says the press release.
“Movements who have been opposing LAA have also been for long demanding community control over natural resources and the right to livelihood – some of it achieved under comparatively progressive legislations like the PESA Act, 1996 and the Forest Rights Act, 2006. Unfortunately, these very legislations are today under threat of being not implemented or worse misused for distributing land titles to some,” the release said.
Along with Medha Patkar, the Sangharsh Dharna was attended by Janaklal Thakkur (Chattisgarh Mukti Morcha), farmers’ leader Sunilam, Dr. Banwarilal Sharma of Azadi Bachao Andolan, Ajit Jha of Samajwadi Jan Parishad, Ashok Chaudhary, and Akhil Gogoi.
“We welcome reopening the whole process and focus on the pre-legislative consultations. However one needs to keep in mind that the proposed draft is not a comprehensive draft but merely a combination of the earlier proposed two bills on land acquisition and rehabilitation, and fails to take in account the concerns raised by the millions of project affected people” Medha Patkar said.
“People have come together in Delhi at a very crucial juncture. The poor from the cities who face eviction on a daily basis and whose livelihood is under threat, and those who are threatened by various developmental activities in the coastal states and the peasants whose land is constantly being grabbed for developmental activities would come and raise their issues. The question of establishing land rights of the marginal farmers, landless workers and peasants and their control over the natural resources, should be the focus of any new legislation dealing with the questions of land for development” Ashok Chaudhary, of National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers, said.
Gautam Bhandhyopadhya, leader of Nadhi Ghati Morcha from Chattisgarsh said, “It is time to take a stand on who will have ownership rights over land and natural resources.” He focused on the struggle of the farmers, workers, fish workers who are determined not to let go of their land and rights. He mentioned that it is important to discuss how developmental projects such as dams and power plants acquire and utilize large tracts of agricultural and forest land.
Addressing the people assembled at Jantar Mantar, former National Commissioner of SC/ST Dr. B.D. Sharma said, “If farmers are trapped in the lure of money, they will be deprived of land, and hence their livelihood. Death of large number of the farmers is not suicide - they are driven to death by the wrong policies of the government, which devalued the role of farmers and farming.” He called the people to insist on “Hamara gaon, hamara raj” (self rule in the villages) to end continuous exploitation.
The Sangharsh dharna is being held in Delhi on the 20th anniversary of economic reforms.
Other than the general focus on Land Acquisition Act repeal and replacement with a comprehensive legislation, 3-day dharna would also address specific issues around Dams (in Narmada Valley, North East India, Himachal and Central India), Thermal & Nuclear Power projects, Urban displacement, Forest Rights and Community Governance, struggles against Corporations and protecting livelihood rights of rural and urban communities in the form of statutory government entitlements such as demanding a universal PDS and adequate beneficial rights to BPL members and oppose any move to introduce cash transfers.
The representatives of people’s movements are also planning to meet the Ministers / secretaries of the Agriculture, Rural Development, Environment and Forests, Urban Development, Commerce and Industry, Social Justice and Empowerment ministries and senior officials of the Planning Commission.
Key organizations attending the 3-day dharna include national networks like National Alliance of People’s Movements, National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers, National Hawkers Federation, National Domestic Workers Union, SEZ Virodhi Manch and Jan Sangharsh Samanvaya Samiti; and organizations like Narmada Bachao Andolan - Madhya Pradesh, PennurumaiIyakkam - Tamilnadu, Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti - Assam, Nadi Ghati Morcha - Chattisgarh, Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan - Mumbai, Aadivasi Mul Nivasi Astitva Raksha Manch - Maharashtra, Jan Sangharsh Vahini, Matu Jan Saghatan - Uttarakhand, Machchi Maar Adhikar Sangharsh Samiti - Gujarat, Renuka Dam Sangharsh Samiti - Himachal Pradesh, Birsa Munda Bhu Adhikar Manch - Jharkhand, Posco Prathirodh Sangram Samiti - Odisha and others.