Mumbai: The proposed amendments to the land acquisition law has isolated the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Maharashtra with allies expressing their discontent over the provisions of the Bill. Shiv Sena, along with Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana and the Republican Party of India, claim the Bill is loaded too much in favour of industry and business and detrimental to the interests of the farming community.
The Maharashtra hinterland is largely agrarian, particularly in the Vidarbha region, and farmer suicides owing to high debt and crop failure because of poor irrigation continue to make headlines periodically.
However, land acquisition is key to a number of ambitious infrastructure projects, particularly in Mumbai metropolitan region, which has some of the highest real estate prices, not to mention population density, in the country, if not globally. Among these are the metro rail, which is scheduled to be extended beyond the current Versova-Ghatkopar suburban line, Mumbai trans-harbour link, expansion of the Jawaharlal Nehru Port in Mumbra as well as proposed special economic zones in its vicinity.
Additionally, the government needs to complete unfinished and new irrigation projects with an investment of close to Rs 85,000 crore and development of new industrial units especially in the underdeveloped Vidarbha and Marathwada regions. To do so, it will need to get farmers on its side.
Shiv Sena, which is currently engaged in a battle of words with the BJP
on a range of issues, has categorically said that there is no question of supporting any law that goes against the interest of farmers. Sena president Uddhav Thackeray reminded the BJP that farmers brought it to power by placing much trust in it.
“Do not commit the sin of squeezing the throat of the farmers,” he warned.
The Sena, which is based on an ideology of Marathi self-pride, has already started street-level agitations against the implementation of the Rs 23,000 crore Metro III project connecting Cuffe Parade and SEEPZ in the Andheri suburbs, saying it poses a threat to the survival of families living in the traditional chawls in south Mumbai.
BJP's other ally, the SSS, which is still fuming over not being given either a ministerial berth in the Cabinet or a spot in the Maharashtra Legislative Council, has warned that land sharks will not pay adequate compensation to farmers. SSS
MP Raju Shetty declared that his party – which has already been protesting the lack of payment of due compensation to farmers by the developers of special economic zones (SEZs) in the state – will not compromise on farmers’ interests and would participate in protests in the state as well as in the rest of India.
The RPI, too, has attacked the central and state governments, both of which are being headed by the BJP, for not keeping its allies in the loop on important issues such as amendments to the Land Acquisition Bill. RPI
president and MP Ramdas Athavale declared that his party will always side with farmers and oppose any attempt to acquire land under pressure.
The BJP's state unit chief Raosaheb Danve, however, has tried to down play down the opposition from allies, saying the party is open to dialogue.
Expectedly, the Congress Party and the Nationalist Congress Party have also decided to step up their opposition.
"The attempts of Modi government to amend the land acquisition law is essentially an effort to please the corporate lobby irrespective of the ill effects on farmers and agriculture in the country,” Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee spokesman Ratnakar Mahajan told Business Standard, adding that the Congress would continue to oppose all such pro-industry, anti-farmer initiatives.
“Interestingly, the state government has moved a step ahead of the Centre and scrapped the river control regulations brought by the Congress-NCP government. These regulations prevented any construction activity within 3 kilometres of the riverbed,'' he said.
NCP's state unit spokesman Nawab Malik alleged the state government has failed to provide relief to farmers hit by drought and hailstorm, which has damaged this year’s kharif crop. Instead the BJP led government is pursuing projects which will need huge land acquisition, he said, adding that the party would oppose any project that will hurt farmers.