TNN Janjgir Champa (Chhattisgarh):
Great men, including Mahatma Gandhi, have said that the test for any country is how it treats the poor. It is a test worth extending to the new land acquisition bill. How does it impact the poorest of poor farmers? Take the case of Sadhram Gond, an adivasi farmer who lives in Chhattisgarh’s Janjgir Champa district, where 36 coal-fired power plants are slated to come up.
The largest cluster of power projects anywhere in the country, it would require 40,000 acres of land, 40 times the scale of acquisition in Singur, 10 times that of Yamuna Expressway. This mega wave of acquisition hit Gond and his family, when a Hyderabad-based company decided to build a 3,600MW power plant in his village Rogda. Gond was among the first lot of farmers it approached. Company officials persuaded the old man to sell his land, promising to give his young son a job.
According to Chhattisgarh government's policy, one acre of double-crop land must fetch a minimum Rs 10 lakh per acre, and single crop land Rs 8 lakh per acre. But Gond got just 1.55 lakh per acre, since his land was not acquired by the government, but purchased directly by the company, and hence, did not come under state law. Now, if the transaction had taken place under the new land acquisition bill, how would it have affected Gond?
Under the bill, compensation is fixed at four times the market price of land. With land in Janjgir Champa priced less than Rs 1 lakh per acre, four times would not be more than 4 lakh. That’s less than half of what the state government policy already provides for. Furthermore, just like the state policy, the new bill has no provision to regulate compensation in cases where farmland is purchased directly by companies. Direct purchase in Chhattisgarh most often happens through lies and subterfuge, by unleashing agents, or roping in powerful figures, like the home minister's son, who acted as an agent for Videocon, abusing official power to buy land for the company from poor tribal farmers for a pittance, as reported in this paper in the month of June.
The only safeguard that the new bill offers in such cases is that it makes rehabilitation binding on companies buying more than 100 acres of land. But what does rehabilitation amount to? A Rs 2,000 per month as annuity for 20 years, and a job for every project affected family, or a one-time cash payment of Rs 2 lakh.
Gond sold his land lured by the promise of a job for his son Gajpal. After months of agitation, the company gave Gajpal, a commerce graduate trained in IT, a temporary job with a monthly salary of Rs 5,000. But under the new land acquisition bill, the company need not even incur this recurring liability. It can pay Gond Rs 2 lakh, and wash its hands of the whole affair. No land, no job, just a little money that they don’t know how to use. Did someone say the bill is farmer friendly?