Corporate Land Grab To Land Sovereignty (Bhu Swaraj)
By Vandana Shiva
10 February, 2007
"There is a sacred
tie between the tiller and the land. Any attempt to snap the relationship
is bound to face opposition".
P. Chidambaram Finance
Finance Minister Mr. Chidambaram is not a friend of farmers or a friend
of the earth. He is committed to the neoliberal ideology. Yet even he
has had to speak out against the corporate land grab of India's small
farms through the creation of Special Economic Zones (SEZ's) and FDI
in real estate. Every place where land is being acquired to create islands
of luxury and lawlessness, land wars have erupted. From Kalinganagar
to Dadri, from Singur to Nandigarm the force of arms and ammunition
in the hands of the police force is being used to assault and kill innocent
farmers and tribals defending their land rights, guaranteed by the Constitution,
through democratic means, also guaranteed by the Constitution.
The land wars are testing
every aspect of India - as a culture based on the earth as a sacred
mother - Dharti - who supports us all, - an agrarian economy based on
small farmers and peasants, a decentralized democracy which through
the 73rd and 74th Amendments has made local communities the competent
bodies to make decisions on natural resources
The large scale uprooting
of millions of farmers in U.P, West Bengal, Maharasthra is breaking
the sacred bond between peasants and the land, which supports them.
But it is also breaking the contract between citizens and the state
which is based on the state being bound by the Constitution, and the
fundamental rights of citizens that the Constitution guarantees.
The Union Government, after
prolonged deliberations, notified the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Rules
in February, 2006 operationalising the SEZ Act 2005. The Government
has cleared hundreds of SEZs and applications of several other developers
SEZs are specially demarcated
zones where units operate under a set of rules and regulations different
from those applicable to other units in the country. The emphasis is
on enhancing exports and creating an environment for attracting foreign
direct investment (FDI) by offering taxsops. While units in the zone
have to be net foreign - exhange earners, they are not subjected to
any pre-determined value addition or minimum export performance requirements.
Any private, public, joint
sector or state government or its agencies can set up SEZs. Foregin
companies, too, are eligible.
SEZ units will be eligible
for 100 percent tax exemption for the first five years, 50 percent for
the next two and 50 percent of the ploughed back export profits for
the next five years. Losses will be allowed to be carried forward. The
Finance Ministry has stated this will lead to losses of nearly Rs. 2
Developers may import / procure
goods without payment of duty for the development, operation and maintenance
of SEZs. They will enjoy income tax exemption for 10 years, with a block
period of 15 years. The developers will also have the freedom to allocate
developed plots to approved SEZ units on a purely commercial basis.
They will also have the full authority to provide services like water,
electricity, security, restaurants, recreation centers etc. on commercial
lines. Moreover, they will be exempt from paying service tax.
Within a year of the Central
Act and less than six months of the enactment of the Act State legislation,
Haryana started to set up the country's largest multi-product SEZ, stretching
over 25000 acres between Gurgaon and Jhajjar off the Delhi-Jaipur highway.
It is being set up jointly by Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) and
the Haryana State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation
(HSIIDC). RIL alone will invest Rs. 25000 crores, while Rs. 15000 crores
will be put in by companies interested in investing in the SEZ.
It is claimed that the SEZ
has provisions for a cargo airport and a 2000 megawatt power plant,
and would generate 500,000 jobs and that the State Government would
earn revenues up to Rs. 10,000 crores. Reliance is the major stakeholder
with 90 percent stake in the joint venture company while the remaining
10 percent rests with HSIIDC. On 31st December, 22 Panchayats organised
a strategy to fight Reliance's Land Grab.
Reliance has also grabbed
about 10,000 hectares of land for SEZ in Pen Tehsil of Raigad district
in Maharasthra. The villagers now know fully well they are pitted against
the formidable adversary - the giant Reliance, which has claimed 25,000
hectares land for its own SEZ in Haryana. It is spreading its wings
in textiles, power, contract farming, medicinal herbs, sugar industries
and retail stores. They realize that the Company has enormous sway over
the political, bureaucratic establishment and the media. Yet in Raigad
too farmers have declared that they will not allow their land to be
This land grab will totally
pauperize our peasantry and create a new generation of corporate zamindars.
Average land holdings in India are two acres and less. To rob the small
peasants of what little they have and put in the hands of giants like
Reliance with Rs. 100,000 crore wealth is to create a country of disposed
paupers. Land grab for SEZ's will also aggravate the agrarian crisis
by robbing farmers of their main resource - land.
The use of the outmated colonial
Land Acqusition Act of 1894 to forcefully evict peasants and grab their
lands for coproations violates the Constitution and the Human Rights
of farmers. It also contradicts the rhetoric of trade liberalization
- of getting the Government out of the market and the economy.
Land, a sacred trust is being
commodified by using state muscle to deny farmers their rights and then
establish corporate monopoly on land ownership. It also contradicts
the purpose of the land acquisition act which was supposed to be used
for acquiring land for public purpose, not for private gain and monopoly
ownership rights. Worst of all, it undoes India's land reforms. Zamindari
was the colonial mode of maximizing revenue from the land. Once India's
land was usurped, the collection of public revenue became a prime concern
of the colonizing powers. Someone needed to be taxed. Before the British
came to India produce was taxed but the land itself was not. To collect
the tax, the British needed proprietors of land who would collect rents
from the cultivators and pass it on to them. How could this be done?
The answer was extremely
simple - create landlords. The task of finding the landlords was not
too difficult - who better than those who already were used to collect
money from the peasants for the state? The Zamindars formed the majority
of the new landlords.
A motley collection of rural
overlords in late 18th century Bengal conveniently and misleadingly
went under the single name of zamindar. To compound the confusion, these
varied elements in the Bengal countryside bore no resemblance to the
village zamindars. The Bengal zamindars encompassed at least four separately
identifiable categories; the old territorial heads of principalities,
such as the rajas of Tippera and Cooch Behar; the great landholdeing
families who paid a fixed land tax and behaved like feudatory chiefs,
such as the Rajas of Burdwan, Dinajpur, Rajshahi, Jessore, and Nadia;
the numerous families and who held offices for collecting land revenue
over a number of generations; and revenue farmers established by the
grant of Diwani in 1765.
In a bad "case of mistaken
identify"' Lord Cornwallis, the governor general, by a grand proclamation
on March 22, 1793, followed up by a barrage of regulations, conferred
the prized private property right in land to this diverse group of rural
overlords unified only in name. And it was the unjust extraction of
revenue that led to the great Bengal Famine. Zamindari abolition got
rid of the conditions of famine of 1942 in Bengal by getting rid of
concentration of land ownership and the inhuman diversion of the produce
of the land to pay revenues. Besides the Zamindari Abolition Act, independent
India also enacted land Ceiling Acts in rural and urban areas. By putting
a ceiling on ownership of land, land was distributed among larger numbers
of farmers, making India a land of small peasants, not rich landlords
controlling thousands of acres.
These land reforms are now
being undone by the anti-reform of the neo-liberal paradigm. The assets
of the small farmers are being transferred to giant corporations. Zamindari
is now being institutionalized through SEZ's. Like Lord Cornwallis'
grand proclamation, hundreds of thousands of acres of prime farming
land are being made the property of corporations.
West Bengal which distributed
land to the tiller through operation Barga is today using police force
to rob land from the tiller and create a police state. When people fight
back land acquisition for Tata Motors in Singur through the Krishi Jan
Raksha Committee, a plantform of nine political parties and groups,
led by Trinamul Congress of Mamta Banerjee and including CPI (ML), the
Party for Democratic Socialism, CUI (ML) Janmat-ul-Ulena.
In Nandigram, six farmers
were killed when Bhoomi Uiched Pratirodh (Resistance to Land Acquisition)
Committee resisted Land Acquisition for the Salim group in Indonesia.
The Communist regime of West Bengal is fighting not just farmers but
its own philosophy of land reforms based on land for the tiller. Its
current philosophy has become land for corporations. In a country where
60% people depend on land, protests against land grab are inevitable.
The protests against land
grab for SEZ's have spread like wildlife. On 17.1.2002 the Government
was forced to suspend new clearances worried that protests would affect
its fate in the upcoming elections. The proposal of the Prime Minister
to give dispossessed farmers "stock options", is no solution.
It is based on two false assumption - one that the Government has the
right to violently appropriate the land of small farmers and peasants
for its corporate friends wherever and whenever it wants. This is not
democracy, it is corporate feudalism.
Secondly, the Prime Minister's
assumption of "stock option" in place of farmers land rights
suggests that he has a world view that small farmers can be fully dispossessed
and uprooted from farming, and the real wealth of farmers in their land
can be replaced by crumbs in the speculative finance economy bubble.
We merely have to remember how the financial bubble burst in South East.
The Prime Minister has also invited Edward de Soto who promotes commodification
of land to the 10th centennial celebrations of Gandhi's satyagraha on
30th January, the day of Gandhi's martyrdom . Soto is not just for removed
from Gandhi's ideas of Swaraj and satyagraha, his proposals infact total
Now that the Government has
blinked on the SEZ issue, it is important to return to first principles,
and decide democratically, from the grassroots what does land mean to
us? Who will own the land? What will it used for? Who will decide?
The future of the Indian
people and Indian democracy rests on the land question. While the Government
is forced to pause in its inhuman project of land grab, let the farmers
and the democratic forces of the country join in evolving charter and
an agenda for land sovereignty - Bhu Swaraj.
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