Natural resources like water, forests and land are the lifeline for crores of people in India. Since centuries, people living along the bank of rivers and settled in the forests have had a natural right to these resources. But the Government, under the veil of a neo-liberal system, has been continuously trying to deprive the common man of these rights. Whether it is connected with making laws for water, forests and land, or a conspiracy to sell these natural resources to capitalists, the question arises: for whom are the laws pertaining to water, forests and land designed? To find an answer, let us try and analyse matters.
The fact is that even today, laws from pre-Independence times are in existence. The British left here not just Westernisation but laws that were made for their benefit, laws that had been made to maintain their hold and rule over India. The continued existence of hundred and twenty five year old laws even after Independence shows that even today the common man of this country is being governed in the same way as during British times. Of course, representatives of the people sit in Parliament, there is discussion and debate and laws are pushed through hurriedly. On the face of it, these laws are made for the people by the representatives of the people, but the question is, what is the real intent and truth behind these laws and their formation? Are these laws law really meant for the benefit of and are they in the interests of those crores of people for whom getting two square meals a day is extremely difficult? Water, forests and land are three such natural resources which for centuries have been providing food, clothing and homes to crores of people. Civilisations have long developed along the banks of rivers, but it is surprising that even today in the 21st century our society is still dependent on water, forests and land.
In fact, water, forests and land are a vital lifeline for crores of tribals and people living in and around them. In addition, seventy per cent of the population is engaged in cultivation and agriculture – in other words their livelihood is dependent on and supported by the land they till. So the question arises : why does the Government want to end this ancestral right of the common people of this country to water, forests and land ? Why, in the name of so-called development, is the Government playing the role of a property dealer? Why is it going in for the acquisition of fertile agricultural land for the purpose of being used for big hotels, malls, apartments after being handed over to capitalists ? Why is it mortgaging the country’s rivers and their water to industrialists? Why is forest after forest being given to industrial houses for setting up factories? Is there no such thing called ‘law’ in this country? It is clear and evident that there is a thing called law, but it is not for the common man. Instead, these laws exist and are used for the benefit of industrial houses and industrialists. For example, look at the laws related to water, forests and land : these are not for the common people, but for particular people and are made with the specific purpose of benefitting them.
Why does the Government want to end the ancestral right of the common people of this country to water, forests and land ? Why, in the name of so-called development, is the Government playing the role of a property dealer? Why is it going in for the acquisition of fertile agricultural land for the purpose of being used for big hotels, malls, apartments after being handed over to capitalists ?
Here is further reality about the laws connected with water, forests land. About a year ago, the Government began making efforts to revise and bring in an amended land acquisition Bill to replace the hundred twenty five year old land acquisition law. The matter went to the concerned Standing Committee of Parliament and finally the revised land acquisition Bill was sent to the Ministry of Rural Development, and has now to be passed in Parliament. But the most tragic aspect of the whole matter is that Ministry has refused to accept and incorporate the suggestions of the Standing Committee of Parliament. This means that the revised land acquisition Bill will also, instead of benefiting the common people, prove to be beneficial for the interests of capitalists and corporate houses. In fact, the sole meaning which emerges from this is that the Government is playing with the people whose livelihood is dependent on this land, who for years have been struggling and fighting to save not just their livelihood but these valuable resources for which they don’t want compensation, but simply want their age old right to the land. It is surprising that in the revised land acquisition Bill there is no role for local institutions like the Gram Sabhas. This fact also makes the new revised land acquisition law meaningless. Now the question arises : when there will be no role or participatory approval or consent for villagers in land acquisition, then, what difference will remain between the laws of pre-independent and post-Independence India? In the proposed Bill, the Standing Committee had said that agricultural land which yielded a single crop or multiple crops should not be acquired. On this, the Ministry of Rural Development spoke only about keeping multi-cropped land outside the purview of acquisition but people’s organisations clearly believe that this step will bring 75 per cent of the country’s farmers within the ambit of acquisition. That’s because most places are dependent on the rains for cultivation. In these fields, only one crop in the year can be produced due to non-availability of irrigation facilities. Also, such land is mostly tilled by Dalit-tribals and by small farmers.
The Standing Committee had stated that land which had been identified for a public purpose should not be forcibly acquired for private or PPP projects, but the Ministry of Rural Development rejected this suggestion outright. The Ministry said that any land likely to be affected by a
private project will be acquired after the consent of 80 per cent of those whose land stands to be acquired. In this situation, it is obvious that in this phase of neo-liberalism, such a Bill will benefit only the professional houses. In relation to the Gram Sabha, the Standing Committee had said that the work of reviewing the social impact, ecological impact assessment by an expert committee should be done with the cooperation of the Gram Sabha and the report should also be made available to the Gram Sabha. But the Ministry of Rural Development laid emphasis on the issue of consent of 80 per cent of the families likely to be affected on a linear basis, while people’s organisations were of the opinion that in this law, the direct involvement and understanding of the Gram Sabha should be necessary for any kind of acquisition of land. For private schemes, just the consent of 80 per cent of the affected people is not sufficient. In addition, on the subject of returning acquired land, the Standing Committee had suggested that if the land that has been acquired is not used for five years after the date of acquisition, it should be returned to the owner. The Ministry of Rural Development agreed to the suggestion, but the question is that there are many acquired lands which have were not used for 25 years, but they have still not been returned to the owners. In such a situation, what is the guarantee that after 5 years the acquired land will be returned? Now, think for yourself : if this revised land acquisition Bill becomes law, who will benefit?
Nationalisation of inter-State Rivers Bill
For the nationalisation of those rivers which emerge from one State and flow into two States, a new Bill has been prepared and has been presented in the Lok Sabha. In this new Bill, there is a provision that over inter-State rivers, the Central Government rather than the States should have a right. The Central Government will be in full control of the waters of such rivers and over the division of the water. The State Governments will place before the Central Government their needs for water and power and then it will be upto the Central Government to decide to who will get how much water. Along with this, on any inter-State river, the Central Government will have full rights over any hydro-electrical project. At the moment, this is, however, a Private Members Bill, which has been presented by the BJP MP, Ramen Deka. The logic behind this Bill is supposed to be, or at least is being given to be that the water sharing differences and feuds going on between the States will end and the water will be shared properly. But the question is that major rivers flow from one State to two-three States : in such a situation, if this Bill becomes law, then on all major rivers the Central Government will have a right instead of the States through which the rivers flow.
Now, it is clear that this provision will it affect the federal nature of the country. What is the guarantee that the Central Government, being run by a particular party, will not, for political reasons, be reluctant to give a fair share of water to a State Government that may be being run by an opposing or different party ? In any case water is a State subject, then what is the reason that the Central Government wants to set up its monopoly on the rivers? It is obvious that with forests and land, water too is a very big natural resource. However, loot of water in this country has been going on for several years. It is regrettable that the Government is not framing strict rules and laws for the way corporate houses are using river waters so indiscriminately, exploiting them and polluting them, but on the pretext of nationalisation of the rivers, the Central Government wants to create a monopolistic law that will give it all rights.
Why is the Government mortgaging the country’s rivers and their water to industrialists? Why is forest after forest being given to industrial houses for setting up factories? Is there no such thing called ‘law’ in this country? It is clear and evident that there is a thing called law, but it is not for the common man. Instead, these laws exist and are used for the benefit of industrial houses and industrialists.
Forest Rights Act
On the face of it, the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act 2006 i.e. the Forest Rights Act gives rights on forests and forest wealth and produce to those people who live in forests or use forest produce to support their lives. But this Act too has so far been unsuccessful in giving their rights to forest dwellers or those who depend on forest produce. Primarily, this Act gives rights to forest land that has been cultivated before 13 December, 2006, gives the right to use forest produce, use the forests for grazing, and the water streams in the forest, but the reality is the opposite. According to reports from many parts of the country, there is gross violation of the provisions of these laws and often the Government officials themselves are involved who try and who forcibly evict the tribals from their land and at the same time deprive them of their rights under the Forest Rights Act. After the passage of this law, the Ministry of Environment and Forests had instructed that without the concurrence of the people living in the forest, land should not be given for any project or to any corporate house. But in this regard the Law Enforcement Agencies (Government officials) have so far not taken any concrete measures. In Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and other places there are continual reports of the people being threatened by the State Governments in an attempt to force them out and evict them from their land. It is worth mentioning that the same thing is happening to people living in Forest Sanctuaries, National Parks and Tiger Reserve Areas. The Forest Department is trying in an illegal manner to deny the people their forest rights. On the encroachment or violation of rights of the people over forests, the Forests Rights Committee examines evidence, but the Forest Department officials do not cooperate and the truth is that people’s claims are often deliberately rejected.
For example, for each claim or complaint, the State Government of Rajasthan has made it mandatory that the signature of a forest guard or some other official should be on the claim or complaint. The result is that to obtain the signature, the claimants have to run after and sometimes bribe these employees and officers and even then many times their work remains undone. The net result of all this on the whole is that the real claimants do not get their rights and their claims are rejected. In this regard, where the Government should take action against such errant officers, the Government instead gives them more and more powers. In addition to individual rights, the Forest Rights Act also gives community rights. It means that a community will get such rights and powers so that they will together take care of their forest land and can protect and save it from the forests and land mafias and corrupt officials. But this right is not allowed to be exercised anywhere. If it wants, the Government can see that this right is implemented, but it is not doing so. In other words, the Central Government which framed the Forest Rights Act and the State Governments which are supposed to implement the Act are violating it. The question arises : for whom are the Governments doing it ? It is evident that after depriving the common people of their rights to forest and land, the Government wants to set up a virtual kingdom of corporate houses. If that were not so, why is the Government which itself made the laws and talked about providing rights to people now hesitating to implement the laws?