Sunday, December 17, 2006

Dispencible People: Singur is only a Metaphor...

A few days back, I had made a posting on "Government as Real-Estate Broker". Given the recency of happenings in Singur over the land-acquisition, it was naturally a comment on the role of govt.

However, the post was not about Singur only.... But, first one must look at this news item:

'No Consent for Acquiring 411 Acres of Land'

    KOLKATA: The Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government has published a status report on land acquisition in Singur saying that out of a total 997.11 acres of land, the government got prior consent from farmers for 586 acres only on the day it fenced up the land. Another 34 acres is vested land.

    Government figures reveal that the administration didn't have consent for acquiring 411.11 acres which constitutes 41.22% of the land acquired — a plausible ground for unrest among peasants and the government's clamping of Section 144 of the CrPC in Singur... (Going by the admission of local administration), the government got consent from the landowners for another 370 acres days within the area was brought under Section 144.

    The sudden spurt in giving consent by the farmers seems intriguing because the administration has been negotiating with political parties and panchayats at various levels since May, but without much success. The status report reveals that nine meetings were held at the DM's bungalow in the three-month period between the first meeting held on May 27 and the ninth meeting on September 21, with no progress. Later in mid-September, the meeting venue was shifted to Kolkata but nothing transpired in the meet.

The admission by the government came under pressure from petitioners. Two petitioners are quoted in the same news item:

  • "It is clear that there are no details of the project, its cost and benefits, provided also to the gram panchayat and consent of the gram panchayat is also not sought..."

  • "In reply to my petition at the Calcutta High Court under the Right to Information Act, the government replied that the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation has requisitioned for the land and there was no mention of the Tata small car project, forget the details. But this shouldn't have been the case. Because the WBIDC has taken loans from the West Bengal Finance Corporation, a government organisation and the people have the right to know where his money is being spent and the details thereof."

Singur, however, is merely a metaphor of what is happening on a large scale in the country. Here is a very small slice of other similar well-known examples:

  • Delhi New Master Plan to allow housing on 27,000 hectares of land
    Delhi's New Master Plan "will have provisions to permit putting up of dwelling units on 27,000 hectare agricultural land that Delhi has in its possession and also provide for easier and relaxed floor area ratio norms for city’s vertical development with necessary no objection certificate from water and power authorities..." (according to State Minister for Urban Development Mr Ajay Maken) "the Delhi’s Master plan will have provisions to allow builders to make multi storied buildings in the agricultural land of Delhi to accommodate the growing needs of housing

  • Power grows from the dust of the land
    A few months back, the UP govt's acquisition of 2,500 acre of agricultural land a power project by a private business led to massive protests by farmers at Dadri, and eventually to police action on protesters.

  • Police Firing a Kalinganagar
    Earlier this year, the protests of Kalinganagar - and the death of people in police firing - over the acquisition of 13000 acres of tribal/rural land by the Industrial Devt Corp of Orissa took place.

  • 60000 Acres, 5 Townships Govt’s Plan for Crumbling Bangalore
    Karnataka govt is planning to acquire 60,691 acres land to hand over to 32 private consortia to build a cluster of five privately built satellite townships around Bangalore. The news reports: "Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy, who is personally pitching for the estimated Rs 30,000-crore townships project, has sent out the message that the government will not allow any obstacle to stall the project or allow it to go the Bangalore Mysore Infrastructure Corridor way."

    The list can go on... SEZs, Slum-clearance, Express-Ways, Outer Ring Roads, Mega Dams, etc, etc.

    Singur, is just a metaphor... of...

    ...of "Dispencible People" !!!


    Anonymous said...

    hmm...while this and the previous posting on the topic clearly demonstrate what the government is doing, the question why should the government indulge in such activities remains unanswered...
    is it the same old story of corrupt politicians trying to woo industrialists or is it that the government sincerely believe in this model for economic development?

    Supratim said...

    Nice post, prof! I fully agree with you that the state/federal governments should not be able to buy land cheap from poor farmers and hand them over to corporates. But, if you need to set up a new car plant or power plant (remember, economists want our country to move from agri-based to mfg-based), where do you get the land from????

    Personally, I believe that the farmers should be able to form a co-op, pool their land and then negotiate direct with the corporates, with the help of some well meaning advisors. But, maybe you have a better idea?

    Also, keep in mind that the govt has been able to trample on private property rights from 1974 onwards, in the name of public good. When the right to property was emasculated first, by Indira Gandhi, and then by Morajee Desai, "socialists" of all hues applauded this as a "pro-poor" measure. Chalk another one up for the law of unintended consequences.

    Personally, I think there is a way to move from an agri-based eco (in terms of pop) to a service based one, without necessarily going through the ole mfg route. Both ends of this "value chain" require people to scale, while mfg does not. But, again, this is something that is generally derided by "socialists".

    And, finally, Prof, you may choose not to answer me, but do remember that it is guys like me/my age that are now shaping policy. If you refuse to engage us because our viewpoints are different, your viewpoint will be completely lost in the decison making. I don't know about you, but I think that would be a loss.


    Madhukar said...

    Hi Supratim

    First of all, apologies for not responding to your comments earlier. That was not intended at all, but just happened somehow - and admit that it happened not once but twice or thrice... was either travelling, too busy with other things or because, all said and done, I am an "occasional blogger" ;0)

    but here goes..

    - I agree that for large projects one needs large plots of land, naturally. What, however, does not get addressed are the facts like: why this very multi-crop land when there is some 55 lac acres of barren land in the same state (it is the same in other states also where other large projects - e.g., SEZs - are coming up). If the location of these plots of land make the project unviable, then those costs should go into project costing, and not be hand-overed to the community.

    - If the aim is to really develop the country as a whole, and not just some few people, then it makes sense to plan for rehabilitation (not just shifting the community) and livelihood promotion, before planning these projects. Yes, I know, one of the objections to this will be that livelihood promotion will take a long time, and that we will be left behind in development in the globalised world... but the "we" here is only the top 3% of the country (that's the number of people who have an average annual family income of more than Rs 4lac)... for the rest, "development" and "growth" are alien concepts... they are not part of the "we" one talks about on blogs.

    - I remember your comment on an earlier post about Co-ops as an alternative, and agree with that. From Mondragaon to Amul, co-ops are more sustainable - and community-friendly - alternative. You had quoted Magarpatta near Pune as an example.... unfortunately, Magarpatta, is not exactly replicable n these situations. If you had studied Magarpatta, then a few situational factors stand out to make it viable: one, it is a homogenous community of Magars; two, the person who promoted it hold around 80% of land among the 120 members; three, the promoter is both educated (an engineer), and had political connections in family... these conditions are not prevalent in most of the development-affected areas in India....

    nevertheless, I would still think that co-ops (and SHGs and MFIs, etc.) are better options for "Equitable" development and growth than these mega-projects

    think about it:
    do we need "Rs 1 lac car" blah blah, when we dont have the roads to drive them on, place to park them or fuel to keep them running, and increasing pollution in cities - or do we need an efficient public transport system?... do we need the 100s of SEZs, which will provide just 0.5mn jobs (for an employable workforce of 377mn!!) , or do we need more livelihood promotion activities.

    I am not pro-/anti- govt/capitalist/socialist.. or whatever you have... it is just the basic "economics" of so-called "development" that doesn't make sense...

    Lastly, yes, we have disagreed here and ISTT number of times - and also realise, as you mentioned, that the policy is being shaped (or at least influenced), by those who will own the space (which is how it shold be) - and am comfortable with these disagreements too.... the aims are similar... my only concern is that some of the basic realities are getting ignored (hijacked) by us - the urban, educated elites - at the expense of long-term sustainability.

    JC: I think this monologue above respnds to your comment

    Supratim said...

    Thanks for the answer and the clarifications. I was really feeling left out ; )

    RE: Barren vs fertile land
    I think this will be more of an issue in the Gangetic plains, than in say, south India. There are two reasons: First, you have more cultivable land there than anywhere else in the country. In maharashtra, for example, I don't remember reading about these issues for any factories that came up. Mostly, people were happy about the employment, whether it be in Pune or Aurangabad or Nagpur or Wardha.

    So, why do factories not want barren land for their units? After all, the quality of the land should not be an issue for the end product, right? IMO, the second reason is infrastructure. Cultivated lands in these states (UP, Bihar, WB) usually have some access already set up, while the barren areas have none. Now, the factory owner obviously does not want the barren land because there are no roads, no water, no electricity. It is in the state govt's realm to provide these for the factory owner. The factory owner does not want to depend on promises on when the state will build these out and instead uses an area where this infrastructure is already available.

    It also depends on the clout of the respective parties. I dare anyone to try and convert the sugarcane land in Maharashtra. Can't be done. OTOH, WB is desperate for industries to come back. So, they are bending over backwards for this one. They will act tougher for the next one, still tougher for the third one, etc

    So, the key is to ensure that that state spends on infrastructure and to empower the local people to resist. Why didn't the NGOs get involved at the start? Where was Mamta banerjee and Medha Patkar when the deal was announced? They are like vultures come to feast now, once the deal is done.

    RE: 3% vs 97%
    I think we are on the same page here. However, I want to move forward. I want the 97% to benefit from India's progress. Clearly, the policies of the last 60 years have largely failed (unless you disagree on this part?) We need new thoughts, new directions, new policies on how we go forward from here. Also, I have said this before (don't know whether you agree/disagree/have no opinion) that our land can no longer support the rural population. At some point in time in the next 50 years, we will have to charge for irrigation water. At that point, even more farms will become marginal. So, we have to move people away from agriculture. And, we have to go back to giving family planning a big push. The challenge is huge, but all new thoughts/directions are stifled.

    RE: 1 lac car project
    Look, I am a libertarian. I don't think the govt should decide production quantities of anything. If people want to live in polluted cities, travel by crowded roads, that is their outlook. Especially today, when even C towns are developing. Why should we deny anyone the right to own a cheap, plastic car?

    I am surprised that people have not learnt this yet in India - that more laws do not make a better society. There are that many more fixers. And, most pro-poor laws have finally been used against the poor. You would think that people would wisen up. Fewer laws, operate on trust (lower regulation), and throw the book if you are caught (tough prosecution) - that is the direction we need to move.

    Anyways, I do not think that the govt should subsidise any factory/unit/sector to the disadvantage of others (farmers/low level workers). Here are my views on what the govt should be involved in: defence, law and order, printing currency, public health, public infrastructure, primary schools. THAT IS IT. Get the f**k out of running hotels, airports, engineering companies, oil, telecom, whatever and streamline the entire revenue collection mechanism (fewer, straightforward laws will get you more taxes). Only when this happens, then the govt will have money to spend on the community (as you call it) and poor farmers will not subsidise the Tatas. (Side note: if the farmers are really being kicked in their stomach in Singur, then some "rational" NGO should just make a presentation to Ratan Tata. Given their alleged "conscience", they would give up the land).

    I have to really wonder why Punjab is such a success, while Bihar and WB, which have traditionally led India for hundreds of years, are in the garbage bin? I was reading about Punjabi farmers now moving out of their states and buying large farms in Chhatisgarh, Jharkand, MP and replicating their success. Is it a people issue, then?


    Supratim said...

    Oh, on another thread, I think SEZs are crap from a conceptual standpoint.

    I think the idea of a self contained township, with all infrastructure laid on is only good (aka Jamshedpur) if all land acquisition happens at market rates and everyone pays tax on the output.

    See, this is what happens when you have a govt that is bankrupt. First, it abdicates its responsibility to build infrastructure, then it starts abdicating its responsibility to govern towns. Next, it will be the national border .... and, that is not a joke.

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