At the time of going to press, it seems likely that the infamous Land Acquisition Bill proposed in the Indian parliament, which had emerged as a major ideological test for the Narendra Modi government, is hurtling toward a swift demise. A coalition of political parties, motivated by a groundswell of farmer protests, have declared their opposition to it, underscoring its pro-rich character, and as a naked example of the intensification of the processes of “accumulation by dispossession” in the country.


The privatization of the public sphere, especially in the service of global capital, has gone on unabated and with furious intensification in India over the past decades. Be it the unconstitutional acquisition of farmland in Gurgaon, the infamous events of Nandigram in 2007, the POSCO acquisitions in Orissa or a host of other events, the dominant paradigm within the Indian polity has been to grant large tracts of land to corporations for their use, often in exchange for a pittance in remuneration, backed by the punitive powers of the police, and of course greased by kickbacks to elite politicians. The battle against such acquisitions continues furiously by the dispossessed villagers, farmers and indigenous groups. In the midst of this fraught atmosphere, the Land Acquisition Bill would have put the imprimatur of legality on such actions by the state, and taken away even the most meager of legal protections for the people in the name of “eminent domain.”


It is worth reiterating that the current Bill, which seeks to amend the Bill passed under the UPA regime in 2013, would have relaxed several key provisions needed to define acquired land as being a necessary acquisition. It would remove the requirement to perform a social impact assessment as well as the need to have approval of 80% of the local community who would stand to lose their land. The prices of acquired land would also have been set arbitrarily, and allowed insurance companies to use their internal measures of valuation as the official costs of acquired land. Land acquisition during drought and flood (such as at the current moment, when the soybean crop in India has been destroyed by flash floods) would have led to distress sales. To take one example, nearly 200 farmers have committed suicide from 2006 to 2014 in Dhamangaon taluka in Maharashtra, owing to crop-related distress. Insurance companies have intensified their efforts to acquire farmer-lands throughout the Vidharba region. To these vultures, the 2015 bill would have been a godsend.


Even if the bill is defeated, the task of activists opposing land acquisition and their supporters is far from over. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance, and while the imminent defeat of the 2015 bill is welcome relief, it is but one battle in a long, perennial struggle.

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