The show of strength by farmers at the rally in Farrukhabad, which marked Arvind Kejriwal’s maiden political expedition outside the Capital, reveals a growing clout the activist-turned-politician seems to enjoy with a new constituency that expands beyond the urban middle-class.
A direct result of India Against Corruption (IAC) questioning business deals between Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Congress President Sonia Gandhi, and realty major DLF, perhaps?
Co-convenor of Kisan Mahasangh, a federation of 35 farmer groups across north India, Colonel (retired) Devinder Sehrawat believes that in exposing the nexus between builders and politicians other politicians wouldn’t dare bring up, Kejriwal has endeared himself to farmers.
On 30 October, Kejriwal addressed a joint mahapanchayat of IAC and farmer groups in Manesar that publicly announced his support for the anti-land acquisition campaign by farmers in Haryana.
Firstpost spoke to Sehrawat about the new IAC-farmers alliance and why Haryana’s land acquisition policy, once celebrated as a model for other states to follow, has failed on the ground.
Excerpts from the interview:
When and how did you join forces with Arvind Kejriwal?
I have been working with him for last two years. Before he started Jan Lokpal Bill he was working on the Land Acquisition Bill. We worked together on that. So on farmer issues, I’m with him. For the kisan mahapanchayat, farmers of Manesar and the Gurgaon belt got together. And IAC was actively involved in this. It was a joint mahapanchayat of IAC as well as farmer groups.
Was this coming together the result of IAC’s Vadra-DLF exposé?
Yes. Kejriwal has highlighted the land acquisition nexus that others are not willing to talk about. There is a certain amount of political courage, which is lacking in the system, that he has displayed in the last couple of months. There is a lack of political courage in speaking the truth for the farmers.
So farmers want to align with IAC? There was a considerable presence of farmers in Farrukabad.
Yes, certainly. The Kisan Union was present in strength in Farrukabad. It sent about 1800 people for protection. Farmers came from Meerut, Sonepat. If a leader talks in the interest of farmers, they will stand by him.
What were some of the key issues that were discussed at the mahapanchayat addressed by Kejriwal at Manesar?
There is a blatant misuse of Haryana’s land acquisition policy – especially Section 4 (notification for acquisition). The second issue, is change of land use. The town and country planning department is directly functioning under Chief Minister Hooda. And he has created a created a record in the amount of land for which land use has been changed.
Another issue that was discussed at the mahapanchayat was the Reliance SEZ. The SEZ Act came into being in 2005. And, thereafter, about 1300 acres was handed over to Reliance. The SEZ promoter is supposed to procure 75 percent land on its own but Reliance wasn’t able to able do so and so the land was returned to the Haryana government.
In the new master plan of Haryana and Manesar, the Hooda Government is talking about residential and commercial activities in this 1300 acres which means that land worth crores will be handed over by the Hooda government to builders. And we feel that this land should go back to farmers.
We also talked about the new Land Acquisition Bill. There are many issues here. The main issue is, globally it has been accepted that for private companies the government should not acquire land, whereas in India ministers such as Anand Sharma, Kamal Nath and Sharad Pawar have openly taken an anti-farmer stance.
During last year’s farmer agitation in Uttar Pradesh, the Haryana land acquisition policy was talked about as being model for other states to follow. What went wrong?
Haryana land acquisition policy is good on paper. But the laws are not being respected. Rules are thrown to the wind. You may have a good policy but the administration is thoroughly corrupt.
What we should really be talking about is formation of farmer cooperatives that are given financial and technical know-how for real estate development. In Delhi, for example, land of farmers is the cheapest. The compensation given to farmers is minimum, less than in Gurgaon and in Noida. But the flats in Delhi are possibly costliest in the world. That means money is being made in the process, at the cost of both farmer and the end-user who is buying the flat. Money is being made by middle-men – be it private builders or the government authorities.
What are your reservations with the new Land Acquisition Bill?
Firstly, it doesn’t address the basic problems of the farmers. During our discussion with the Rural Development Minster last month, we pointed out that the preamble of the Bill must state of that historical injustice that has been done to farmers of India. This admission should be there in the bill. It is a fact that farmers haven’t got a fair deal.
There are two main issues when it comes to land acquisition. Firstly, the question of necessity of land acquisition. We disagree with the classification of everything under public purpose. If you are making a government hospital, we have no objection. But then you are giving it Apollo or Max. These are no longer public purpose, these are commercial.
For the past twenty years the judiciary has been complying with and abetting the exploitation of farmers. If you take away a farmer’s lal dora land that is meant for their habitation, where will he go? We brought this up with the minister. The lal dora land of famers should be protected at all cost. It should not be acquired. This should be part of the Bill.
The other issue is compensation. We have to realise that all land that is sold is under priced. The rates that are given are not all linked to the market. You are acquiring somebody’s property against his wishes, that too at below market price. The government says how will development take place? I want to ask the government, when a dam has to be built, does it buy cement from Aditya Birla at subsidised rates? So why do you want farmers' land at subsidised rate? Because in subsidising land, you can make a quick buck.
The corruption is in policy today. The policies are being with a corrupt mindset.
Do you support the campaign by P V Rajagopal-led Ekta Parishad for land reforms?
We met with Rajagopal. We went to Agra too. The Ekta Parishad’s agenda is primarily landless farmers and adivasis. Their issue is land reforms so that excess land is redistributed among those with no land.
Post Independence, to achieve social justice, the Land Ceiling Act was implemented so that anybody owning more than 30 acres of land would have to give up excess land. But the Haryana government in 2011 passed the Land Ceiling Amendment Act, so that real estate giants have no problem in owning more than 3000 acres of land. They passed this legislation with retrospective effect from 1975. This is the kind of bending backwards to help corporates that is going on.
What is next on your agenda?
We are getting farmers together. We had a meeting in Manesar. We are meeting in various places. We are planning to meet on 21 November in which farmer leaders from across political parties will come together. We are making a farmers forum that will come up with a comprehensive document that will be given to MPs and the UPA. We will take this to the entire country. Farmers now know what is wrong and right. You cannot fool us.
Is there a plan for a farmer protest in Delhi?
We are planning a protest on land acquisition. I’ve spoken to most farmer groups. They are of the opinion that if the government doesn’t do anything on land acquisition then we will hold a 3-4 day protest and make sure that we are heard.
When are you planning the protest?
This is a continuous process. We are talking to the political leaders. Senior political leaders are getting involved. We hope sense will prevail. If nothing happens, we will get the farmers together.
Published Date: Nov 05, 2012 11:25 am | Updated Date: Nov 05, 2012 11:25 am