‘Voluntary Land Pooling’ decoded

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[pullquote position=”left”]Prof. C Ramachandraiah [/pullquote][intro]This is the abstract of the paper presented on September 21, 2015 in a workshop held at National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru, by Chiguripati Ramachandraiah. A social scientist of national repute, Ramachandraiah’s view are thought provoking and need to be debated. Ramachandraiah is a professor at Centre for Economic & Social Studies (CESS), Hyderabad. [/intro]

It is widely believed that the Andhra Pradesh (AP) chief minister, N. Chandrababau Naidu, has been successful in convincing the farmers to voluntarily surrender about 33000 acres of land to build a new capital city, Amaravati. And that this is unprecedented and there is a lot for other states in India to learn from. Is it so? Contrary to the claims, the total land pooled is 26,975 acres as on 20 Augustunder the Land Pooling Scheme (LPS)(The Times of India, 25 August 2015, Hyderabad).To claim that a majority of the farmers surrendered lands voluntarily is an insult to them. An interplay of three factors played a crucial role in this land grabbing – real estate speculation, the dominant caste that is the backbone of TDP in the region, and continuous blackmailing and intimidation of the farmers – what is locally called ‘mind game’by the government.

Once the capital city location was announced to be spread over 25 villages and four hamlets in Tullur, Tadepally and Mangalagirimandals in Guntur district,the real estate speculators started raising the land values. Resistance to land pooling has been high in the villages whereJareebulandslocated on the right bank of Krishna river. Considered some of the best fertile lands in the country, about 120 varieties of crops are cultivated round the year in these lands. Under the LPS, the government offered developed residential/commercial plots of a certain size and an annual payment for each acre for ten years. In the light of the huge real estate speculation, the farmers were told that the plots they get will fetch them huge sums running into crores once the new capital city takes shape. They were told that this is better than the small amountsthey would get as compensation if the lands were acquired legally.

Three significant developments strategically played together in the last days of December 2014 and early January 2015 provided the backdrop to the operation of the LPS. These had a tremendous bearing on the farmers in the subsequent few months. First, several Government Orders (GOs) were issued on 30 December 2014 bringing the Andhra Pradesh Capital Regional Development Authority Act (APCRDA Act) into force with immediate effect, and authorising APCRDA to undertake “voluntary land pooling system”. The LPS Rules were issued on 1 January 2015.Second, the controversial Land Ordinance was promulgated by the Government of India on 31 December 2014. The AP government used it as a Damocles’ sword over the head of farmers to force them to join the LPS.Changed provisions in the Ordinance were relentlessly used by the government, the ruling party leaders, real estate speculators, revenue officials etc., to intimidate the farmers. Third, police were moved in to the villages on a permanent basis from the first week of January due to an incident of burning of banana plantations and bundles of some other material on the morning of 29 December 2014. This happenedin six river-bank villages where resistance to LPS was high. Cases were booked on several activists of the opposition party. Later, it came out that it was done by the ruling party as a strategy to move the police into the villages.

The government’s attitude was aggressive and intimidatory. All through, it exhibited a “rhetoric of urgency” to “justify the speeding up of law-making, regulations and policies to enable a new city to quickly materialize”(Datta, 2015). Deadlines were set with short time limits to pressurize the farmers for speedy surrender of lands even before their implications were understood by them. The LPS rules were not made available in Telugu, the local language. Deadlines were extended eight times till the Land Ordinance lapsed at the end of August. The LPS has benefited mainly the large land owners who left agriculture (as their children got settled outside in India and abroad), were leasing out lands and belong to the upper caste support base of the TDP in Tullur area. These people exerted pressure on the small farmers of the same caste who were identifying themselves with the new city since TDP is in power. LPS has been anti-small farmer, anti-poor and socially unjust. Government appointed one revenue officer to each village to be constantly in touch with the farmers and pressurise them to join LPS. Rumours were also spread about declaring those village lands as “green belts” if the farmers don’t join LPS.

It is widely believed that the Land Ordinance was brought in with the main purpose of enabling the AP chief minister to take over these highly fertile lands. Even by middle of May the land pooled was only about 15000 acres. Re-promulgation of the Ordinance three times enabled AP government to continue blackmailing the farmers. Had that Ordinance lapsed after the winter session of parliament, the whole farce of the so called voluntary pooling would have collapsed like a pack of cards.

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