Land Acquisition Bill 2014 - Why is India Reluctant to Change?

For the past many years, suicides of farmers has been an issue that has reigned over political discourse - it has become so potent that it has pulled down governments. While farming has become economically unattractive, cities are growing left, right and centre. This is clearly showing an aspiration and an inclination of young Indians to embrace the urban lifestyle, perhaps a fallout of policies at national and global levels. Further, as India grows, every Indian needs infrastructure - roads, rail, water supply, energy, and a severe shortfall in this sector is seen as a primary cause of slow and sluggish growth. A study mentions that there is a wide gap between India's infrastructure condition and its average income levels. Every conclave, seminar and coffee table conversation is about the need for infrastructure in India.

Reflecting the situation above, the focus given to the Development Agenda by the BJP in the poll campaign, has seemingly brought about a massive victory and formation of the BJP led government in the Centre. In pursuing the goal of Development, we as a nation wish to move ahead and are looking forward to better infrastructure, better growth. For doing this, we desperately need land. Where will land come from? Its supply is mostly finite and hence to procure land for growth, we will need land to be shifted from its traditional, customary agrarian use to other needs of a growing nation.

We have pretty much agreed that the economic growth, and it alone, offers us an opportunity to lift a massive number of people from the dredges of poverty. Then why are we as a nation reluctant to shift landuse?

It looks like, we, as a nation, constantly resist change. We are reluctant to shift from an agrarian economy to an industrial/manufacturing/service one. We are also 'reluctant urbanizers', as quoted by Amitabh Kant. We yet romanticise villages and farmers, when we know that cities are places where social and economic reform happens.

We emphasize on the emotional issues of landlessness and loss of livelihood of farmers when we know that small farmers are not even making enough to feed their own families from the produce of their small land holding? My driver, who is also a small-holding farmer, realized, much to his astonishment, that the cost of the rice that he produces is more than the cost at which it is available in the market, when he adds his time cost. It makes economic sense to him to moonlight as a car driver and have access to city employment, and thats exactly what he is doing.

How fair it is then to leave a multitude of farmers languishing in poverty, asking them to continue farming and deny them access to urban or industrial employment by politicizing land acquisition? Why are we not even considering that there could be a possible, new economic avenue available to farmers, if they need to give up their land for other uses? Why is there a consolidation of Opposition when we speak about farmers' rights and livelihoods and no solidarity to allow 'change' and thereafter ensure that affected farmers are accommodated into other and possibly better avenues of livelihood?

Last year on my visit to Turkey, my woman city tour guide, told me of the times when Istanbul changed for the better - from a very hardcore Islamic nation and city to a city where women guides accompanied tours to showcase Istanbul's timeless architecture. In the 1930s, she told me, Turkey officially shifted from Arabic to a new language that uses the English alphabet. Today, her grandmother, traditionally educated in Arabic, cannot read a single word of the new language. The thought at that time was to initiate Turkey into a progressive, world state and hence the language shift was seen as a first step. I was shocked and repeatedly asked if there was a severe dissent in changing the language of a country. I could not fathom such a kind of change happening anywhere in India. While we can debate the positives and negatives of this change, the point is that a Change was made!

The Land Aquisition Bill of 2014 is a mere example. We need sweeping reforms to provide an opportunity to a multitude of Indians, including poor farmers to earn their livelihoods decently and provide of their families. While we are constantly speaking about the losing economics in small farm holdings, one of the primary reasons for farmer suicides, we are yet reluctant to let go and look at newer opportunities and options. In politicizing this reluctance to change, political and social leaders are holding back nation's opportunity to thrive. In not allowing a shift from a currently decaying agrarian economy, these leaders are harming the nation and holding back its people from a possibly better life in the future.

With change there is always an uncertainty and there are always social repercussions. And the fear of 'change' is logical to a point when the current situation is good. But for India, the current situation is far from perfect. Change is imminent and will be forced, much like migration. Planning for Change, preempting and making policy to address foreseable change is necessary for India. I see the Land Acquisition Bill 2014 in this light. If we dont formulate a policy and choose to remain a 'Reluctant Nation', we will always follow Change after it unfolds, uncontrolled and unbound by the framework of policies and  we will continue to lament the fact that political leadership lacks the vision to take India forward.


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