National Convention on Land and Democratic Rights Concludes in Ahmedabad: Read Final Statement

Three day long national convention of the Bhumi Adhikar Andolan was held in the wake of the increased attack of the global capital unleashed by brazen corporatisation and unbridled FDI in key sectors resulting into high price rise, inflation, and naked loot of the natural resources by corporates, all facilitated by the policies of the Union government and certain state governments. The convention was attended by more than 500 activists of 15 states who dwelt upon the on-going struggles in their regions; ground situation of the alliance building processes; centre and state governments attempt at subverting democratic processes by changing laws and issuing notifications and obsession of the political elite with the current GDP based growth model. It discussed the unfolding situation at various levels where the precariousness of the nature resource based communities was increasing and life of toiling workers and masses was becoming harder everyday, as the impact of 25 years of the reformsbecomes visible everywhere and inequality in the society reaches its zenith.

The Convention also took note of the massive unrest in the society caused by the economic hardships faced by the society and in particular dalits, adivasis and marginal communities. It also discussed the growing attack on the minorities and sense of insecurity; massive political unrest in certain parts of the country demanding reservation for certain caste groups; and rights violations of the people in conflict areas due to heavy militarisation and failure of the State to find political solution, promote democratic processes and undertake peace initiatives in wake of provocations by the non-state actors.

The convention agreed that it was after a long drawn struggle and sacrifice that the Land Acquisition Act 1894 was repealed and new Land Acquisition Act was legislated in 2013 by the Parliament. Although there were inadequacies it had some progressive elements like the principle of prior informed consent, Social Impact Assessment, safeguards for food security, enhanced compensation etc that gave some protection to land losers and dependents on land. However, after the Narendra Modi led BJP government came to power it brought a draconian Land Acquisition Amendment Ordinance that tried to do away with the need to seek consent, have SIA or safeguard food security and allowed for unbridled forcible land acquisition.

The united issue-based opposition built against the BJP Government’s move to impose the draconian Ordinance (promulgated thrice) had forced the Government to withdraw the move at least temporarily. Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan played a significant role in building up a momentum and public opinion against the Ordinances. The Government had to concede its first defeat by not issuing the Ordinance for the fourth time. The withdrawal of the Bill from the Parliament is still pending and we must remain vigilant about it.

Building on this political victory, the convention deliberated upon plethora of issues facing the country and made these observations, assertions, and put forth demands upon the government and also for its own constituency.

1. No forced acquisition and displacement : Keeping in view the nation-wide build-up against its attempts to dilute the 2013 Act and withdraw whatever little progressive content and safeguards the Act offered, the BJP Government has changed its strategy. It has come up with a move to try and sidestep such united opposition by calling upon States to come up with land acquisition legislations facilitating easy land grab. Already Gujarat have legislated laws like SIR Act and other to dilute the Land Reforms legislations and facilitate land grab. In Odisha, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tamilnadu, Karnataka and other States also such moves are afoot. Odisha also is now planning to allow purchase of Tribal land. On the other hand it is declaring traditional forest cultivators and tribals as land grabbers.

The interim period from December 2014 to August 2015 when the Land Acquisition Ordinance was in place Andhra Pradesh government managed to acquire thousands of acres of land in the name of the State Capital and several other Projects through land pooling. Rights of peasantry and dependents on land have been disregarded across the country. In all these legislations the rights of Dalits and Adivasis are being undermined. The rights of the Narmada Dam oustees as well as hundreds of other Projects are being denied and there have not been any effective rehabilitation and resettlement.

Large tracts of land are being forcibly acquired in the name of industrial corridors, economic corridors, smart cities, National Investment and Manufacturing Zones, (NIMZ), SEZs, industries and infrastructure development. Lakhs of acres are under the potential threat of acquisition under the DMIC, BMIC Economic Corridor, Bangalore-Chennai Economic Corridor, Vishakapatam – Chennai Coastal Corridor and such Projects. Loot of land, mineral and forest resources as well as common property resources have been rampant as the corporates and land mafia have been given a free hand.

We envisage protecting land from acquisition without people’s prior informed consent and democratic Social Impact Assessment. Plunder of forest and mineral resources will be resisted. We also envisage occupation of lands remaining unutilised and demand re-distribution to landless with the slogan of ‘Zameen Wapsi’.

2. Empower local self government institutions and their role in Development Planning, implement Forest Rights Act, PESA and ensure protection of constitutional rights as per the Fifth and Sixth Schedules: We believe effective implementation of the provisions for the FRA and PESA would empower the Gram Sabhas and Panchayats to play their constitutionally mandated role, as per 73rd and 74th amendment, in the development planning and communities would get control over natural resources and secure their livelihoods. Any attempt at the subversion of these acts will only undermine the democratic processes and people’s movements will resist them by all means. 15th December, 2016 will mark tenth anniversary of the FRA and Bhumi Adhikar Andolan will organise massive rally at Jantar Mantar with clear demand of effective implementation of the Act and challenge any attempts at amending the Act.

3. Bring a national Land Use policy to protect farm land from large scale diversion to non-agricultural purpose like industry and infrastructure, priortise housing rights for poor in the Urban land-use and not promote evictions and displacement in name of Smart Cities: A comprehensive Land Use policy should be made which protects farm land from large scale conversion for non-agricultural purpose, with clear regulation and public participation. Priority should be given to food security and livelihood security, focusing not only on irrigated multiple-crop land but also single-crop land in rainfed areas which form 60% of cultivated area. Gram Sabha and Panchayat should have control over the utilization of public lands which serve common purpose such as grazing, with clear provisions to ensure access and use by the most needy communities such as Dalits and tribals. In some cities, agricultural and livestock rearing has been banned, facilitating easy conversion of land use, this needs to be changed.

No common land including wasteland be diverted for industrial purposes without the consent of the Gram and Basti Sabha. Most often these are being encroached upon by the powerful caste and capital interests and State has turned blind eye to them, often acting only against the poor, dalits and adivasis.

Clear provisions should be made for reclamation of wasteland into agricultural land, protection of green cover to prevent soil erosion, degradation and groundwater depletion, and improving agricultural land to make it more suitable for effective production. Coastal land and fragile areas such as Western Ghats should be protected applying the environmental laws and regulations.

Urban land-use should be planned with priority to housing, amenities and livelihood for the poor with in-situ housing projects for poor localities. There should be no cut-off date for Right to Shelter, whereas appropriate cut-off dates can be designated for government allotted subsidized housing including middle class. Urban Land Ceiling Acts should be revived. Land-use planning should be participatory with public hearings in communities above 3000 families.

In the name of Smart Cities, poor and working class is being evicted from the cities and that needs to be stopped. The whole concept of smart cities like its predecessor JNURM is anti poor and pro-corporate. Any planning has to be done keeping in mind the needs of the most marginalised and working classes in the cities.

4. Changes to Environment Laws not acceptable : Based on the recommendations of the T S R Subramanian Committee, environment laws are also being changed to suit the demands of corporate sector and take away the rights of the people and local self government institutions. Slums are being forcibly cleared and even coastal land is being encroached upon for ports, big infra projects, PCPIR and so on trampling upon the rights of the traditional fishworkers. All this would lead to massive displacement and permanent denial of land rights of the landless. Lakhs of acres of land acquired in the name of industrialisation, SEZs etc is remaining unutilised.

5. Ban illegal mining, ensure inter generational parity in resource utilisation, and implement SC guidelines in Goa Foundation case : The scourge of illegal mining is haunting the hinterland as well as the river beds and sea coasts, polluting water sources, running streams, and causing massive damage to ecology and economy both. The rampant mining and extractives based economic growth model is leading to destruction of the nature and mother earth and contributing to the large scale climate change. Hence, the need for no mining in ‘No-Go’ areas (and build upon this criteria), dense forests and climate sensitive forests areas.

6. Address agrarian crisis, implement SC judgement on tackling draught, ensure income security for every agricultural household, and establish a permanent Farmers’ Income Commission : Over 3.2 lakh Farmers have committed suicide since 1995 at the rate of one Farmer committing suicide every half an hour according to conservative estimates put forward by the National Crime Records Bureau. In reality the human tragedy is of a magnitude unheard of in the entire history of humanity. The Government is cutting down public investment for agriculture and rural development, rural credit is increasingly inaccessible to poor and marginal Farmers, indebtedness and landlessness is rising, allocation for MGNREGA is being drastically cut, Farmers are not getting remunerative prices for their products despite ever increasing costs of production. Sugarcane Farmers are to get thousands of crores of arrears from the corporate Sugar lobby. Trade liberalisation and indiscriminate entry into Free Trade Agreements is leading to dumping of cheap agricultural products including dairy products thereby pushing our Farmers into distress. Procurement facilities are being curtailed, Extension services systematically dismantled and Farmers are getting prices far below the actual cost of production.

7. MSPs should be declared at 50% above cost of cultivation. Ensure that farmers get MSP in all 25 crops through procurement, market intervention and price guarantee: The BJP Government has gone back on its election promise of providing Minimum Support prices according to Swaminathan Commission Recommendation of C2+50% i.e at least 50 percent above Cost of Production and had filed an affidavit to that effect in Supreme Court. It has also banned procurement from States which provide bonus over and above the MSP. The Government is kowtowing to diktats of the USA, EU and other countries in the WTO and cutting down food and agricultural subsidies. The entire agricultural policy is to aid profiteering by seed monopolies and agribusinesses at the expense of the people. The Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan stands opposed to all such policies and will strive for alternative policies that will ensure food and livelihood security to all as well as decent standard of living including housing, health and education. Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan stands resolutely against unequal Free Trade Agreements, WTO diktats, trade liberalisation and against any such monopolistic deals with other countries.

8. Implement Land Reforms – Give land to landless agricultural workers not corporates: There should be renewed focus on land reforms to give ownership of land to deprived sections, especially Dalits, adivasis, women, project-displaced families, and so on. Ceiling limits should be properly enforced stopping the exemptions and loopholes allowing thousands of acres to be taken over by a few individuals and corporates, and making surplus land available for distribution.

Ensure Food Sovereignty and Food Security and sort out the massive corruption within the Food Distribution System: Food security doesn’t mean giving subsidised food alone but empowering communities to produce their own food and securing land rights which will make them self reliant. In that regard it is also important that farmers have complete control over the seeds and the systems of production and not be made slaves to the big multinationals claiming their IPRs. No company should be allowed exclusive intellectual property rights over seed in any crop.

However, there is also the need for effective implementation of the National Food Security Act, given many state governments have failed to do so. In the name of rooting out corruption linking of ration delivery with the Aadhar and other electronic identification programmes is resulting in leaving out a big chunk of population, which is often due to systems inefficiency and denies a large number of poor and vulnerable population access to their entitlements.

9. Rights of Tenant farmers, Sharecroppers and Women Farmers should be upheld. The real cultivators should get full recognition and benefit of all support systems : Tenant farmers, sharecroppers and women farmers are the worst-affected in the agrarian distress in many parts of the country, because they get left out of all government support systems including low-interest bank loans, disaster compensation, crop insurance, subsidies, etc. They are the real cultivators not only working hard but also taking the risks of production – tenant farmers and sharecroppers cultivate more than 30% of the area, and women perform 70% of tasks in agriculture. Their rights should be upheld. There should be a comprehensive system of recording and recognizing the real cultivators including tenant farmers, sharecroppers and women farmers, so that they get the benefit of all government support systems and eligibility for all provisions in case of land acquisition. The Model Tenancy Act by Niti Ayog must be withdrawn.

10. Rights of the Agrarian Workers, unorganised sector workers to be protected and minimum wages and social security measures implemented : Today 93% of the labour force is in the unorganised sector and a majority of them is dependent on agriculture and other related activities. This section is under tremendous attack due to farm crisis and decreasing support from the government. We demand that the allocation to the MGNREGA be increased to ensure 300 days work and 300 Rs wages daily. In addition, to deal with the farm labour crisis due to high migration recognise agriculture, as a work should be brought within the MGNREGA, that way the workers and farmers both would benefit. In addition, a number of suggestions and guidelines have been issued by the Supreme Court of India to effectively deal with the draught situation in the country. Unfortunately, the implementation by this by the Union and State governments has been extremely poor and tardy.

With the growing precariousness and distress time has come that the Minimum Wages Act be mandatorily applicable to the agricultural labourers as well. In addition, on lines of the Social Security Act for the construction workers should also be implemented for the agrarian workers.

11. Comprehensive support for shift from high-input chemical agriculture to low-external-input ecologically sustainable agriculture : One of the biggest causes of the crisis is the model of high-input chemical agriculture promoted in the past few decades – leading to indebtedness, damage to soil fertility, declining productivity, depletion of water, and poisoning of food and water system. While accepting the importance of increasing production and productivity, the emphasis should be on sustainable productivity. The policies and support systems should be fully reoriented to ensure a time-bound shift to low-input ecologically sustainable agriculture, using many viable models demonstrated and established across India in the past two decades.

12. Reverse the injustice done to rainfed agriculture : Though 60% of Indian agriculture is rainfed, it is highly neglected compared to irrigated agriculture; consequently much of the distress and farmer suicides is in rainfed areas. We demand a comprehensive mission to revive rainfed agriculture by promoting dryland crops, animal husbandry and fodder, revival of minor irrigation, and targeted support. Providing protective irrigation to the first crop in rainfed areas should be the first priority rather than irrigation for second and third crops.

13. No privatization of water resources and services; Priority to drinking, domestic use and agriculture : Water should be respected as a natural resource essential to human life and food production, and attempts to privatize water bodies and services, and give control to corporates should be completely stopped. Water for drinking, domestic use and agriculture should receive priority over other uses, with further prioritization for food crops and one-crop protection in dry regions. Landless families should also be given rights over water to ensure more equitable use and to redress the inequity in land ownership.

14. Resist attempts to dilute labour laws and express solidarity and active support to workers’ strike of 2nd September 2016: Workers rights are being curtailed and the Narendra Modi led BJP Government has been tampering with labour laws in the name of “ease of Doing Business”. Against such attacks an unprecedented Strike was witnessed on 2nd September, 2015 in which the Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan extended solidarity. The Central Trade Unions also took up some of our demands and spoke against the Land Acquisition Ordinance. We extended solidarity to the united working class Strike called on 2nd September, 2016 and will work actively to make it a success.

15. Resistance to divisive and fascist politics : Faced with growing protests and unprecedented unity of people against the policies of the BJP Government at the Centre and States the BJP-RSS and their affiliates are resorting to divisive politics and deliberate communalisation. Rationalists and cultural personalities are being physically attacked and killed, dissent is brutally being suppressed. In the name of protection of the cow, systematic attacks are being launched on Minorities and Dalits. Deliberate communal and casteist violence is being resorted to in different parts of the country. A spontaneous response against such efforts is developing. Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan will resist such divisive efforts and work for building communal harmony and strengthen the unity of toiling masses.

16. Curb attack on the autonomous functioning of the Universities, corporatisation of education, and suppressing of dissent within the universities and Enact ROHITH Act: University campuses across the country are in turmoil and there has been a growing attack on the students and attempts are being made to suppress any dissent, free thinking and free flow of exchange of ideas. The corporate agenda of the education and their pandering to the market needs is solely driving the education policy today leading to complete erosion of the values and democratic principles necessary for functioning of a vibrant democracy.

Access to education by all remains a cause of concern. The demand for a common school system has been there for long and is responsible for the continued inequality and the perpetuation of the discrimination within the universities. SC/ST communities face discrimination at every level in the education system from admission, recruitments, promotions or opportunities for growth. The fact that a brilliant student like Rohith Vemula had to commit suicide due to continued harassment and caste based discrimination indicates towards systemic crisis within the education system today. The demand for Rohith Act by the student community needs support from all the organisations and Bhumi Adhikar Andolan express its solidarity with the movement and demand.

17. End Caste based Discrimination and Ensure Effective Implementation of the SC/ST Act : The resource struggle is also inherently a caste and class struggle and Dalits and Adivasis have been at the receiving end. The caste based violence and systematic elimination of the rights and dignity of the community is being done in collaboration with the political and caste elite leading to their further impoverishment and disempowerment. The inability of the system to ensure justice to victims of the caste-based violence on every count has ensured its continuation without fear of any impunity. This is condemnable and unacceptable. Supreme Court and Higher Court must take suo-moto cognizance of these offences and ensure fast tracking of the cases on line of the violence against women cases. This will not only ensure justice but also prevent future attacks on the community.

Bhumi Adhikar Andolan reasserts and reaffirms its faith in the reservations provided for the SC/ST communities by the Indian Constitution as a way to address the historical injustice. The ongoing attempts to subvert that by some political forces and caste groups in the name of economic justice is not acceptable and any heed to that by the governments and political parties is primarily based on vote bank calculations.

18. Withdraw all fabricated cases from the social and cultural activists, tribals, dalits, farmers and students : a number of activists have been framed on numerous false charges and incarcerated. In the current political climate, the targeting of activists has increased manifold and thus their victimisation as well. As Bhumi Adhikaar Andolan, we extend support and solidarity to the activists and movements facing police oppression and support the effort to establish a people’s commission to defend the rights of the activists.

19. Repeal AFSPA and Stop increased militarisation in conflict regions : Recent judgement of the Supreme Court has validated the long term demand of the movements for withdrawal of the AFSPA from J&K, and many of the North East states. Under AFSPA, many heinous crimes have been committed without any prosecution often feeding in to the vicious circle of continuing violence. The continued unrest is also due to heavy militarisation within these areas, which often leads to hardships for the citizens of those areas.

20. Assert democratic rights of association, freedom of expression and raise voice against any incursion: A climate of fear and intimidation is being promoted specifically targeted at muzzling dissent, restricting freedom of association, assembly of citizens to criticise anti people policies of the government and control or close down any democratic spaces available for free speech and gathering. These attempts by the State and vigilante groups are not acceptable in the largest democracy of the world, and are completely violates the ideas and principles enshrined in the Indian constitution.