Rajya Sabha

September 4, 2013

Derek O’Brien speaks on Land Acquisition Bill, 2013

Mr. Vice-Chairman, Sir, the expression ‘Ides of March’ has come down to us from William Shakespeare in Julius Caesar. But for me, Sir, the ‘Ides of March’ is actually March 14, one day before March 15, 2007 because as a metaphor for a ruling order that had decayed beyond redemption and began to treat its citizens as subjects – in fact, began to treat its citizens like slaves – just like the Roman Generals would take them captive. Sir, of course, my reference to March 14, 2007 is to the firing on innocent householders and farmers in Nandigram. A massacre that shook the conscience of our State.

Sir, I am talking about the biggest land movement in this country. Sir, I was talking about Caesar, but they are also the Communist Caesars of Bengal. So, what to do? Sir, this was the most brutal and dramatic evidence that the land acquisition system in our country, at that time, from 1894, has been rotten. It needed to be rescued from self-serving brokers and agents such as those who live in the headquarters on Alimuddin Street in Kolkata.

March 14 was the day when our existing land acquisition model became not just untenable, but it also became a curse. That was the day, our leader, Mamatadi of Trinamool Congress, who was in the forefront of a three-decade struggle, resolved to go on a 26-day hunger strike to protest against the rape of a young girl in Singur and for so many people who died in these movements by bullets sponsored by the same people who are making so much of a noise today. The Bill which we are debating today is a small step towards securing justice for the victims of the terror in Nandigram. Before I speak further, I would like to salute those.

Sir, the same people who are standing up today have converted the land grab into a pseudo scientific practice. The Trinamool Congress Party was the first party to articulate a policy for land acquisition. In 2006. I understand, Sir, sometimes the truth hurts. Let me finish my speech. Because the Trinamool Congress Party saw the absence of a well-defined modern land mechanism. That is why, Sir, the issue here is not just about who should buy the land, whether the State should buy, or, whether the industry should buy. There is a broader context to it; and there are three parts of this broader context. (a) Protecting farmers’ rights; (b) concerns of food security; (c) finding that talent between agriculture and industry to flower together.

Sir, the Trinamool Congress Party’s policy is based on what is known as the doctrine of eminent domain. What is the doctrine of eminent domain? When the State recognises the private party, the private owner becomes the absolute title holder of that property. The State still remains prior bound holder of that property. That is why we understand and appreciate that a piece of land for any public purpose, be it a bridge or whatever can be acquired by the State. The Minister from 2009 ran the marathon but somehow we feel strongly stopped half way through because in this Bill we have some serious issues; and I will just touch three or four very serious ssues. First, no forcible acquisition of land at any cost. No, no, no. Second, you are talking about 80 per cent farming families who have agreed, 70 per cent for public purpose who have agreed, our view on this is the same just as what it was right through the land movement, no 80:20, no 70:30, it is 100. Someone has to speak up in front of the farmer. There are lots of people who are making speeches here about how good this Bill is, how it could be improved. This is the very basic issue that we have, 80:20 no, 70:30 no, it has to be 100:0. No multi-crop land, because multicrop land is an asset.

Sir, when they are talking about acquiring the land, industry, of course, needs to acquire land. Industry acquires labour. Industry acquires products. Industry acquires other inputs. In none of these acquired by the industry, does the Government interfere. So, why does the Government need to interfere for the purchase of this land? Now, I know, when I say this, that there will be concerns whether farmers have necessary skills. Do farmers have necessary skills to negotiate directly with corporate buyers, or, with the Government? We believe, Sir, they do with little help, with little guidance. Of course, they do. Overall we believe, we should trust the sagacity of the Indian farmer. He knows what the best is for him. He knows what the best for India is. In all humility, Sir, the Trinamool Congress Party knows what the best is for the Indian farmer. We will not compromise on this. We also know how to strike a balance between the industry and agriculture. Not one at the cost of the other.

This Bill, overall, is better than what it was for the farmer three, four and five years ago. But this Bill is not good for the farmer. This Bill is not good for the conscience of the industry. This Bill is not good for the nation. We do not support this Bill. We have made a speech. Our button also will reflect that after we finish this debate. Thank you, Sir. I have finished my speech on time because our second speaker is one of the most qualified eminent people from the world of land reforms, Mr. D. Bandyopadhyay. I have also noticed that there are many people here who will come and speak on a variety of subjects. I am also looking forward to someone else here in the front Benches who will speak on the same subject on land reforms. Thank you, Sir.