At a time when industry captains are batting for the Land Acquisition Bill 2015; Hemant Kanoria demands curb on acquisition of fertile farmland for industry.
In an interview to BusinessLine; the Chairman and Managing Director of the ₹3,400-crore turnover SREI Infrastructure Finance, says the practical approach is missing in the Centre’s move to resolve issues in land acquisition, coal block allocation, road and highways and power generation.
What is your opinion about the Land Acquisition Bill?
Land belongs to States. And, Act or no Act, politically it is difficult to take land from farmers. We have been suggesting to the Government since four years for detailed classification of barren, mono crop and multi-crop land. It could help differentiate between land owners and farmers.
Someone owning a patch of barren land is surely not a farmer.
At the peak of the Singur controversy in West Bengal in 2008-09, we (SREI) were buying (barren) land near Kharagpur for an industrial project, without any resistance.
We feel the creation of a legal framework, aided with rehabilitation and resettlement packages, to promote industrial development in barren and mono-crop land, is a practical solution.
Acquisition of multi-crop farmland may be allowed for constructing roads, irrigation canals, installing telecom and electricity towers, strategic defence infrastructure etc. But, industrial use of farmland should be restricted to agri-processing industries (like rice or sugar mill).
Let us first assure them that farmland will not be touched. More over, by directing industries to less fertile areas, we can create new livelihood options. But the bill proposes one formula for all.
The Centre wants to reduce the threshold for taking consent of land losers in case of private and PPP projects. What about misuse of provisions by the private sector?
Not just the private sector, even the Government can misuse it. Whatever the new amendments are, they can be applicable to barren or mono-crop land.
There is no reason why you need an automobile factory or a defence production unit on multi-crop land. Singur problem (Tata Nano fiasco), would not have happened if fertile farmland was not acquired.
Barren land generally suffers from inadequate infrastructure. Will it be suitable for industry?
That should be the responsibility of the States. They must get their acts together and create necessary infrastructure.
But isn’t the industry demanding freedom to invest in its choice of location, which is often near big cities?
Both the Government and the industry are not thinking practically. Why is there such a mess in the coal and power sectors? Because, everyone has ignored ground realities. We must realise that we cannot disturb farmers.
The Government has successfully auctioned captive coal assets. Do you still hold the opinion you earlier had, that a more efficient Coal India is the answer to energy woes?
I stick to the opinion that coal mines be owned by the Government or Coal India and mining be done by reputed contractors to enhance productivity.
I have strong reservations about the success of the coal block auction. It will push up production costs across the economy. Electricity tariff is bound to rise.
The auction was bound to be “successful” because bidders had already made substantial investments in power capacities and now want to fuel to keep it operational. They agreed to pay whatever it takes oblivious to the final cost, which they will eventually pass on to consumers. India Power was also a bidder to fuel the generation facility at Haldia (West Bengal) that will be operational from September. But, I asked my team not to go overboard.
Many power stations are idle due to weak demand for electricity. Will the availability of fuel will ensure their smooth running?
There will be buyers if the power tariff is affordable. Availability of fuel is not the only answer; it should be available at the right cost. India is blessed with vast coal resources and a consumption-driven economy. Availability of power at low cost holds the key to success of the Make-in-India campaign.
What are the solutions for the road sector’s woes?
There are simple solutions that people are unwilling to accept.
First, the Government must allow an exit route to those struck in existing projects. This will help entry of new players at lower costs. On new projects, instead of going for mega plans, road projects should be broken up into smaller packages of say ₹500 crore or ₹1,000 crore.
My Observation on Land Bank given two days ago resubmitted below:---
First the ordinance and now the amendments - the land bill continues to make news as it enters the Rajya Sabha. While the Opposition has accused the government of diluting farmers' interests, the government says that without necessary amendments, India will not be able to embark on a path of industrialisation.
•So is this by far the best land bill we could have?
•Should the 'consent clause' be brought back as demanded by the farmers
•Has the government made land acquisition easier?
• Will forcible acquisition be a thing of the past?
I have tried to enlighten on the issue of seeking consent of three fourth of farmers and making analysis of social impact of land acquisition in following lines.
It is important to mention here that only in the state of Jharkhand ,34 MOU were signed by government of Jharkhand and out of which only 17 have started operation and 20 are pending for execution in want of land. .Most of stalled projects are related to power generation and from private sector. Similarly numerous projects coming under private or public sector are pending in various states due to many reasons , one being non-availability of land also.
In my opinion , government should avoid using Land bill for use of private business entities until it is inevitable due to some urgent reasons and until it is well established that it is in the larger interest of the society. Government cannot dream of rural housing or industrialisation of rural areas until adequate land is acquired. And quick growth is possible in any state only when process of land acquisition is made easier. But in no case land which are used for farming can be or should be acquired unless and until it is unavoidable . Only barren land or unirrigated land can be and should be acquired for normal industrialisation and for normal work. Private entities should be left to acquire land at their own as far as possible and only public utility services should get priority in land acquisition.
Government and local authorities should make a survey to find out and assess how much land may be acquired without affecting the livelihood of farmers. Land bank may be formed in line with concept of Blood bank functioning in all big towns and cities. Blood helps the person during his or her acute sickness and when the survival is at stake. Similarly land helps the sick state and helps poor, downtrodden and land less labourers to get job if adequate number of industries are set up in all villages and towns as per potential of the area.
UPA government did not do anything for ten years but just at the fag end of tenure passed a bill which appears to be growth oriented but in fact it is impractical for all practical purposes. The key reason is consent clause . Though applicability of consent clause and social impact analysis before acquisition of land appears to touch emotions of many farmers and politicians, but these two factors are real barrier in growth and quick acquisition of land. It is easy to preach these two conditions but it is completely unimaginable that there will be consensus on any case of land acquisition.
It is important to say here that even in Parliament , and state assemblies where most of participating members are knowledgeable, talented, intelligent but they never agree to any bill . None of bills placed in the Parliament is ever passed with 70 to 80 percent of MPs or MLAs .Bills pertaining to rise in salary ,perquisite , pension and other benefits to all MPS and MLAs are only passed without any objection from any corner and passed with consent of 100 percent members. Otherwise, any government cannot dream of passing a bill in state assemblies or in Parliament without facing chaotic scene created by opposing parties.
During TV debates organised by promoters of TV channels, it is seen how persons of different political parties quarrel with each other and oppose any bill or any issue for the sake of opposition only. In our country most of party men follow what High command of the party dictates to follow. None of them applies their own mind or concerned with interest of common men and interest of the country.
Even media men speak what they are asked to speak by promoter of TV channel. Media men invent negative points and discover bad news to make it breaking news and to increase TRP without assessing the impact of such news on the society and on the nation. Media men focus on news related to rape, murder, accident, briber, scam, and all bad news to attract the mind of audience. They do not have time to project good work done by any officer or any government.
Similarly in a village where so many mukhiyas and muscle men or local self made guardians and protectors of village will crop up and fight with each other to establish their supremacy as happen in Indian Parliament . In an environment where even members of same blood group families do not like group concept and willingly or unwillingly families face division after division ,it is absolutely impossible that 70 to 80 of villagers will ever agree to any case of land acquisition. Land in villages are divided among family members and share of land available to any one members in a family is shrinking year after year . Division of land has happened to such an extent that many farmers either have left farming or are engaged in labour work because farming has become economically unfeasible for small portion of land they own.
Dirty politics of rural area will not allow consensus to happen on majority opinion to happen in case of land acquisition. In rural areas also there are some farmers pro-BJP and some pro-Congress Party , some are pro-Lalu and some are Pro-Mulayam or pro-Mayawati. . People are divided even in a small family which causes breaking of family and quarrels among family members as also with neighbours. It will be foolish to imagine of success of principle of consensus in such position when interest of each family mostly is in conflicting position to that of neighbouring family. Similarly every family will have different mind-set towards social impact caused by acquisition of particular portion of land. Some of them will find a land acquisition as good for society and some will find it a loss venture.
It is important to point out here that majority of civil suits pending in various courts all over the country are related to land dispute only . Majority of land owners are not in good relation with neighbouring land owners. Land dispute among family members and with neighbours are more in number than land disputes with government or due to land acquisition. Similarly farmers in general are unhappy not with value of compensation they get in lieu of land acquired by government, but with delay and corruption involved in getting of promised value of compensation.
As such application of consent clause and concept of social impact analysis may appear to be farmer friendly , but it will definitely delay and hamper growth to a great extent.
However it is the moral duty of each government in each state and that of local authorities and social organisation to implement the amended Land bill and ensure minimum loss to farming and local farmers. Any law cannot yield sweet fruits until the law enforcing agencies are honest and pure in their mind .
During last 68 years , almost all ruling parties and all government promised for elimination of poverty and promised maximum benefit to farmers , but unfortunately even Today condition of farmers and common men in general is not at all good and it has deteriorated year after year. And this is why some of farmers decide to end their life when they face huge loss in farming even after spending all their own money and borrowed money.
Need of the hour is improve the position of farmers and common men and this is possible by all round growth . This is possible only after farmers carry on farming and they get proper education facilities, medical facilities ,additional job opportunity also in their area only. This is possible only when all parties shed their personal ego and they jointly arrive at a consensus position which is less damaging and more fruitful and beneficial for large section of society.
Suicide by farmers or by any one is not indicative of good health of the social comfort level and not indicative of good governance. As a matter of fact Parliament is not for the purpose of mutual mud slinging or for serving the ill-motivated and conflicting interest of various parties but for framing of rules, act and law after through debate and discussion.
Farmers will stop committing suicide only when the business of farming become a profitable venture . Big farmers exploit small farmers in villages and it is they who oppose land bill prominently. Small farmers and landless labourers are least bothered when land is acquired or not. They bother how to earn livelihood in their area and this will become easier for them only when other opportunities of jobs are crated in villages.
Last but not the least, it will not be wrong and incorrect to say that those parties and media men who are now advocating of seeking consent of three fourth of farmers and making of analysis of social impact caused by acquisition of land are playing foul game to serve their self interest and to increase their vote bank and to brighten their political future. Such advocates are neither growth oriented nor farmer friendly. They are to oppose Land bill for the sake of opposition only.
Whatever may be the truth of Land Bill, it is sure that all opposing parties will continue to harp on emotions of farmers and tarnish the image of BJP saying that BJP is enemy of farmers and friend f corporate. This may adversely affect the future of BJP government. After all , this is India, where emotional issues can make or mar career of any party.
Poverty helped Congress Party and others to win the election and now farmers will help .It is not clear as of now which party will really help farmers but it is crystal clear that non-BJP parties will sail the same boat as long as BJP is in power and they will sail with sail of farmers only.