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Shady US Funds Mould Poll Bonds: OPEN GATES FOR MURKY DEALS, By Shivaji Sarkar, 25 March 2024 Print E-mail

Economic Highlights

New Delhi, 25 March 2024

Shady US Funds Mould Poll Bonds

OPEN GATES FOR MURKY DEALS

By Shivaji Sarkar 

Is it the MNC-linked corporate sector in a world of globalised economy that is dictating the course of political establishment in India or is it the other way round? This is the basic question that has cropped up in the follow-up to the Supreme Court verdict in the electoral bonds case.A handful of companies today hog the limelight for a reason no nation would feel proud of. Is it the beginning of a transnational corporation corporate war? 

It is roiling democracies from the US to India with equal elan. On March 22, two incidents rocked Delhi -- seizure of Congress funds for not filing an income-tax return, though political parties are not supposed to pay income tax, and the arrest of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal for alleged involvement in a liquor scandal by the Enforcement Directorate in a midnight drama. 

Almost at the same time in New York, US Attorney General Letitia James indicated that she could be preparing to seize former President Donald Trump’s assets there, if he does not pay $ 464 million bond in financial fraud case. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office told Judge Juan Merchan that fewer than 270 of the 170,000 documents turned over to Trump’s lawyers pertain to the hush money case. 

What a similarity! In both these cases corporate money is involved and thousands of km away they function the same way. Are the two of the greatest democracies becoming the proverbial banana republics?Is it that globalisation links them together? 

For a mere Rs 16000-odd crore electoral donations, has the country been pawned! A few select group of companies, many with international links, have linkages with donations, deals and contracts worth billions and the people are the unknown victims debating the unsavoury practices. It calls for a deeper probe as deals influence decisions. 

About 10 political parties including the BSP and CPM, refused bond money. The CPM even is a party to the cases in courts filed primarily by Association for Democratic Republic (ADR). Janata Dal-U and Trinamool Congressalleged that certain amounts of bonds were dumped in their offices. There is a lottery king, who showers donations to DMK, which had passed a bill banning lottery but that could not turn into law as the governor refuses to sign it. There are strange ways of bonds travelling to centres of power in any State -- BJP Rs 11,500 crore; TMC Rs 3214;BRS Rs 2278 crore; DMK Rs 1230 crore and YSR Congress Rs 662 crore and Congress Rs 1356 crore. 

Besides, there’s less known development. On February 18, 2024, Jobanjot Singh Sandhu, one of the accused in the Rs 21000 crore Mundra port drugs haul case, escaped from police custody at Amritsar in Punjab. The value of one haul is greater than the total bonds sale.On January 9, 2024, Ecuador declares state of emergency after “extremely dangerous” druglord Jose Adolfo Macias, alias Fito, escapes from jail and unrest breaks out at several prisons. Are these incidents a pattern that democracies need to be wary of? 

Hyderabad based Megha Engineering gave Rs 584 crore to the BJP and its group company Western UP Power Transmission Company chipped Rs 80 crore, a total of Rs 664 crore. Ironically, the UP power consumers have lodged extortion complaints by manipulating bills. Sadly, these have gone unheard. Quick Supplyhaving reported links with a large groupcontributed Rs 410 crore and mining group Vedanta also made contributions. Vedanta, Western Power group and MKJ owning Keventer brand are also among the top Congress funders donating more than Rs 100 crore each. 

Despite lottery ban in Andhra Pradesh, the Future Gaming donate Rs 154 crore bonds to YSR Congress. Interestingly, the Telegu Desam Party got 55 percent of electoral bond earnings in January 2024. It received Rs 80 crore between April 2019 and September 2023. But from October 2023 to February this year, TDP received about Rs 130 crore bonds. Of this Rs 118 crore was received in January alone, just at the nick of elections. 

A loss-making Kolkata company, Avees, which shares office space with several other companies on Waterloo Street, bought Rs 112.5 crore bonds and parked with Congress Rs 53 crore and TMC Rs 45.5 crore.  It funds the BJP, BJD and AAP too. There are several names like LN Mittal of the Arcelor-Mittal group, Laxmidas Vallabhbhai Merchant, linked to a Gujarat company, Indigo’s Rahul Bhati, who fund different political parties. Is it pressure or lure? 

It is a diverse link. But all are pointers that the corporates are working in tandem with the political parties for mining their futureignoring the well-being of the people.A question nobody answers how so much of money is available in a poor country.Are they earning high by fleecing consumers? Corporate linkage is indicated by some studies in the US.Is not the electoral bond based on the US Supreme Court ruling? 

The corporate linkage has caused concern in the US since 2000. Corporate Money in Politics by Andrew Wilson, in the MITSloan’s Magazine writes, the Centre for Responsive Politics in its website Opensecrets.Org calculated that in 2010,large public action committees (PACs) - corporate funders, spent $63 million. By 2020, it rose to $2.1 billion. 

In 2010, the US Supreme Court undid century-old campaign funding restrictions and enabled corporations and other outside groups to “spend unlimited funds on elections”.  This results in more centralisation of power. The top one percent of donors now give 93 percent of the money, with a mere 100 persons providing 70 percent of it. 

The U.S. has, what is essentially legalized corruption that gives outsized influence to the wealthy and powerful. What in other countries is done in back rooms and with envelopes slipped under the table is aboveboard in the U.S, Wilson observes. “The point is that major corporations have been knee-deep in political influence for decades”. He asks the businesses to answer, “Are the politicians you support blocking progress on our biggest challenges, or are they helping us build a better world?” 

Just see the similarity in the pattern with India. Wilson names 24 top global companies who doled out $170 million to US legislators over the past four years.Should now Indians rethink globalisation and change their own political system? It is not expanding businesses but creating an alliance of the murky corporate finance that influences political and electoral decisions. Must not the country end all such misty fundings?---INFA 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

Preparing For An AI World: THE ROLE OF EDUCATION By Rajiv Gupta, 23 March 2024 Print E-mail

Spotlight

New Delhi, 23 March 2024

Preparing For An AI World

THE ROLE OF EDUCATION

By Rajiv Gupta 

Scientific discoveries, technology, and innovation have tended to disrupt the way in which humans think and act. This is a truism from discoveries in astronomy and medicine to the invention of the wheel, automobiles, and computers among other major human creations. The 2016 Hollywood movie “Hidden Figures” described the lives of three black women computers who worked for NASA and who played an important role in the first American manned space flight piloted by John Glenn. 

It is difficult to imagine that, prior to the invention of the modern day computers, complex and lengthy calculations required for space travel were performed manually. Hence the three women were called human computers. We know that the introduction of electronic computers has totally changed the way in which we calculate anything, from household budgets, to store checkout totals and any complex scientific calculation. 

It is instructive to note that, about 50 years ago, students were not permitted the use of pocket calculators in exams. Today they are ubiquitous, embedded in devices such as mobile phones. Why this matters is because when a new technology, such as the electronic computer is introduced, human society takes time to absorb the technology in its day-to-day working. And just as technology affects human thought and behavior, our education system affects the direction of technology development and use. 

Therefore, as we await a more complete development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its impact in our lives, it would be useful to consider how our education system should help steer society to assimilate the technology meaningfully and to provide direction for its future growth. 

In order to fully appreciate the role of education in a world where AI will likely be as ubiquitous as the internet is today, three major components of education need to be considered; the design of the curriculum, the delivery of the content, and the assessment. Each of these three aspects merit consideration. 

The curriculum is a very crucial part of the education experience. If the curriculum does not resonate with the needs of the students and society, it will not matter how effectively it is taught. In the past, course content was to a large extent, focused on the delivery of facts, approaches, and methods of doing various activities. In most cases, facts become outdated, and approaches and methods evolve as societal needs change. What a good deal of curricula lack is helping students develop the ability to think and learn. This ability would mean that the role of the student changes from a passive recipient of information, to a collaborator, or participant in the learning process. Also, the role of the faculty changes from someone who is a storehouse of knowledge, to one who can draw out the best in each student. 

In addition, there would need to be greater emphasis on some of the soft skills, which do not receive much attention today. These soft skills include critical thinking skills, communication skills, and collaboration skills. Critical thinking is the ability to question, analyse, interpret and make a judgement about what we read and hear. Since access to facts will be simplified through AI, what people will need to develop is the ability to dissect and use the information. 

No matter how much the developers of AI claim, forming judgements about actions to be taken will remain a human endeavor at least for the foreseeable future. Communication skills are essential for people to get their point across. However, current leadership in education does not necessarilysee therole of education in developing these skills in students. This needs to change. As problems faced by people in various walks of life become more complex, it has become necessary to learn to collaborate with others. However, the focus in our education systems is on developing individual performance. This leaves a major gap in an essential skill that is required. 

The second area where education needs to focus on is the delivery of the material. Traditionally, the faculty person has been assumed to be the source of all information where the faculty delivers lectures, and learning by the students is a passive activity. In this model of education, students are not active participants, and tend to forget the content of the course shortly after a term is over. 

There is sufficient empirical evidence to suggest that if students participate in their learning, they will understand better and retain the material for longer. This will require that the role of the faculty change from the guru who knows everything, to one who engages the students and facilitates learning. Greater class participation, in the form of discussions, where alternative perspectives are encouraged and explored, helps students better understand the relevance and application of what is being discussed in class. 

One of the more recent innovations in classroom delivery format is the flipped mode of instruction. In this mode, the course content is covered before the live lecture takes place. This can be either via textbook readings, or via pre-taped lectures. The students are expected to read or watch the content prior to the class. The classroom is purely focused on discussion on the content. This allows for a richer understanding and deeper insight of the material. 

The third principal element of education is assessment. Certainly, there have been advances in assessment in the last few decades. The single assessment at the end of the term in the form of a final exam has been replaced by more periodic assessment via quizzes, assignments and projects. However, this needs to go much further. Assessment is still largely based on proficiency in the completion of specific tasks. This begs the question, “When a student finishes from a school or university with a certain grade, what does that grade indicate in terms of the ability of the student other than the completion of tasks which he/she was assigned?” There needs to be a better way of assessing the competencies of students which can be useful in the workplace. 

The late Dr. W. E. Deming, the quality and management guru, used to advocate the elimination of grades. At the very least he suggested that the goal of the teacher/faculty should be that all students get an ‘A.’ Such thinking flies in the face of the current practice where students are assigned grades based on a curve in order to differentiate one student from another. Empirical evidence does not suggest that grade differentiation among students is predictive of future career successes for the students. Grades and evaluation on a curve are deeply entrenched in our education system and will take visionary leadership to change. However, this will be necessary for the future students to develop and grow t meet new challenges. 

This article has looked at some aspects of the current education system that need to change to prepare the students for a future world which will be powered by AI. Since it takes time to bring about major changes in education, we need to start now.---INFA 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

 

Putin Wins 5th Term: INDIA & WORLD REACT By Prof. (Dr.) D.K. Giri, 22 March 2024 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 22 March 2024

Putin Wins 5thTerm

INDIA & WORLD REACT

By Prof. (Dr.) D.K. Giri

(Secretary General, Assn for Democratic Socialism) 

The landslide victory of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin in the presidential elections last Sunday with a historic margin has elicited reactions from across the world. It appears from the comments by world leaders that Russia’s break with the West and tilt towards China is almost complete. In the current geo-political order divided between the West and Russia-China axis, India is trying to remain non-aligned or in the new parlance, New Delhi is attempting multi-alignment. India says it will maintain the decades-long strategic ties with Russia whereas, at the same time, Prime Minister Modi has made new defence link with the United States and the European countries. 

The fifth consecutive victory of Putin which will keep him as President till 2030 will maintain the current world order marked by antagonism between Sino-Russian alliance and the Western powers led by USA, and the continuing deaths and devastation in Ukrainian war. Putin will continue the war with Ukraine and deepen the contacts with China. 

Out of about 140 million people and 114 million voters, 74.22 per cent voted in the elections. The nationwide turnout was about 7 per cent higher than the last elections in 2018 which was 67.5 per cent. Putin got 87.8 per cent of the total votes which is the highest ever in post-Soviet electoral history. His opponent, the Communist candidate, Nikolai Kharitanov secured just 4 per cent of the votes. This is by far the biggest victory any President has had. This will also enable Putin to overtake Stalin’s term in office for 30 years. Former KGB agent, Putin has been in office continuously since 1999 as Prime Minister or President. 

As said before, reactions are clearly divided between Putin’s critics and his allies and friends. The critics contend that elections were not fair or free. Substantial candidates did not have a chance to contest. The Election Commission of Russia did not give the clearance to candidates. For instance, BozisNadhezdin, an anti-war candidate was barred from running in the elections. International observers pointed out ballot stuffing and fraudulent counting. Elections in Russia have just been a ritual. 

Many Russian Missions faced protests against the polls. In Germany, these were led by YuliaNavalnaya – the wife of late critic of Putin, Alexi Navalny. They were complaining against mass censorship, persecution of genuine opposition leaders to Putin’s regime and manipulation of the electoral machinery. World leaders condemned the polling held in Russian-occupied Ukraine territories annexed during the war. The Ukraine President called it a crime to hold elections in their territory. 

Let us scan the reactions; first, those which were congratulatory and supportive. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote in X, “Warm congratulations to HE Mr Vladimir Putin on his election as the President of the Russian Federation. Look forward to working together to further strengthen the time-tested special and privileged strategic partnership between India and Russia in the years to come.”Likewise, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that Beijing would maintain close communication with Moscow to promote the ‘no limits’ partnership they agreed in 2022 just before Russia invaded Ukraine. He added, “I believe that under your leadership, Russia will certainly be able to achieve greater achievements in national development and construction”. Recall that India-China-Russia are in BRICS which challenges US domination of the global economy. 

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman offered his congratulation on Putin’s decisive victory. Kremlin said that the two leaders expressed their readiness on telephone to pursue their ‘effective coordination’ in the OPEC Plus oil-producing group. The Iranian President EbrahimRaisi, accused by the West of supplying weapons to Russia, also congratulated Putin. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un who is also accused of sneaking arms to Russia wished Putin on his victory. North Korea is said to have shipped 7000 containers of arms to Russia. This was the accusation by South Korea’s Defence Minister, who said that the transfer of arms from North Korea began since last July. 

The reactions from Africa came from four countries in the Sahel region – Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Chad. These countries strengthened their ties with Russia following the coups last year at the cost of their former allies France and the US. A Burkina Faso daily Aujourd’ hui au fasosaid, “In Africa, the Russian elections could sound like a non-event. But given the context in Sahel, it takes on a particular meaning, because Putin embodies the new geo-political balance of power on the Continent with growing (Russian) presence and influence”. 

The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a strongly worded message said, “Russian election has no legitimacy. It is clear to everyone in the world that this person (Putin), like many others throughout history, has become sick for power and will stop at nothing to rule for forever”. 

The US President Joe Biden had not commented so far. But the White House Spokesperson Vedant Patel on Sunday said, “Russian election was obviously not free, nor fair”. Citing repression of the opposition and media he said, “Putin is likely to remain the President of Russia, but that does not excuse him of his autocracy”. David Cameron, the former British Prime Minister and the current Foreign Minister decried the Russian elections which, “starkly underline the depth of repression under President Putin’s regime which seeks to silence any opposition to his illegal war”. 

The European Union Foreign Ministers met in Brussels on Monday to formulate their reactions to the war. They made strong statements but did not heed the request of Navalny’s widow not to recognise Putin’s new government. They, however, decided to impose sanctions on individuals linked with the mistreatment and death of the Kremlin critic Alexi Navalny. The German Foreign Minister said, “Vote was without choice, demonstrated Putin’s heinous behaviour against his own people”. France Foreign Minister cited increasing repression of civil societies and all forms of opposition to the regime. He hailed the courage of Russians who demonstrated against the election conditions. At the time of writing, 74 Russians were arrested for this. The EU foreign policy chief Josph Borrell said that the vote was based on repression and intimidation. 

The contrasting reactions from global leaders actually exposed the geo-political divide that has widened since the Ukrainian war that began two years ago. This has undoubtedly triggered the deepest crisis in power relations since the Cold War. India’s position on Russia vis-à-vis the Ukrainian war is by now well-known and somewhat grudgingly acknowledged by the Western powers. Yet, New Delhi has neither effectively bridged the gap between Russia and the West, nor did it offer to mediate between Russia and Ukraine. Even Turkish President Erdogan while congratulating Putin has offered to facilitate a rapprochement between Russia and Ukraine. 

Foreign Minister Jaishankar has pointed out more than once that the West is pushing Russia to China, and may I add India to Russia. If the West took a hard line on revanchist and expansionist China, it would have been easier for India to persuade Moscow to distance from Beijing and accommodate the West. The challenge for diplomacy both for India and the West continues. The West must make a choice between China and Russia, whereas India tries to bring Russia closer to the West. ---INFA 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

Claims and Poll Prospects, By Inder Jit, 21 March 2024 Print E-mail

REWIND

New Delhi, 21 March 2024

Claims and Poll Prospects

By Inder Jit

(Released on 25 September 1979) 

Predictably if prematurely, the poll guessing game is on again. Anyone who even looks like having some clue about the popular mood and the possible outcome of the forthcoming general election is in demand. So also are the astrologers who are better placed than most others they have at least Bhrigu Samhita and the stars to go by not only those in seats of authority and their cohorts, but hundreds of others all over the country are busy getting them to peer into the future. Those anxious to retain power of aspiring to membership of Parliament want help to determine their prospects and tactics. Celestial guidance is also sought by scores of captains of industry and others to decide on the political horses they should profitably back and the best way in which they should hedge their bets. Seasoned politicians and observers alone prefer not to commit themselves and speak in parables or in general terms. Candidly, a discussion in terms of numbers is unduly early. The situation is still largely fluid notwithstanding loud, rival blasts.

Anything can happen between now and the New Year; the poll, according to latest indications, is still likely to be held on or about December 30. This will depend upon a combination of several factors: the prevailing circumstances at the time and the ability of the rival parties effectively to pose vital issues at stake before the people and to shake them out of their tragic indifference to their own long-term interest and that of their children. The situation has already changed greatly since August 22 when the President, Mr Sanjiva Reddy, dissolved the Lok Sabha unexpectedly. The Janata Party and its leaders found themselves down in the dumps that day. Within 48 hours, however, they were smiling again when Mr Morarji Desai and others addressed a “protest meeting” at the Ramlila grounds. Even the most optimistic among the Janata leaders were taken by surprise. Over a lakh of persons turned up at short notice in sharp contrast to the attendance at two earlier meetings, one convened by Janata (S) and the other by Congress (I).

Happily for the Janata leaders, their party prospects appear to have improved over the past month. On August 26, a top Janata leader told me: “Bombay’s welcome to Morarjibhai has been even better than the turnout in New Delhi. We should be able to get as many seats as we held in the dissolved Lok Sabha: about 200.” On Thursday, September 20, Mr Chandra Shekhar told me: “We will win at least 225 seats. We may well bag 300 if the present trend continues.” The Janata chief feels particularly confident on three grounds. First, popular response. “The crowds everywhere”, he says, “are twice those of 1977 and as enthusiastic.” Second, the people’s anger against the Janata is now turning against Janata (S). Few are willing to buy Mr Charan Singh’s “alibis” for the spurt in prices. Third, the people’s continuing abhorrence of authoritarianism. Asserts Mr Chandra Shekhar: “The 1977 vote was not negative. Our people voted positively for freedom and democracy.”

If Mr Chandra Shekhar is confident, Mrs Indira Gandhi, Mr Charan Singh and their respective confidants are no less optimistic. A senior Congress (I) leader told me: “Make no mistake, we are winning. Mrs Gandhi alone can give the country a strong and stable government. Our rock bottom is 240 seats. But we are hoping to win 350 seats.” He then explained: “We drew a virtual blank in the north in 1977. This time we expect to win here at least a hundred seats, giving us a minimum of 250 seats all over the country.” (Mrs Gandhi won 150 seats in 1977.) Top Janata (S) leaders dismiss the Janata and Congress (I) claims as “wishful thinking” and maintain: “Our Alliance alone will triumph. We will get at least 250 seats and may even go up to 325 seats. Each of our allies is going to concentrate in its respective stronghold. No, we shall not fritter away our energies. Chaudhury Sahib will concentrate in the north, Mr Urs and MGR in the south, Mr Chavan and Mr Pawar in the west and the CPM in the east.”

All these are essentially claims and counter-claims. Much will eventually depend upon certain vital factors and indicators -- the nature of the contests, straight, or multi-corner, and the attitude of the Harijans and the minorities who have played a crucial role in the poll outcome over the past three decades and more. The caste Hindus and the backward classes have, no doubt, constituted a majority among the electorate all along. But they have invariably reduced themselves to the position of a hopeless minority (and to nonce) by the unthinking manner in which they have exercised their franchise. Experience has shown that of every hundred Muslim voters, for instance, eighty or so make it a point to poll. What is more, all of them have generally voted for one common candidate. In sharp contrast, barely forty out of a hundred caste Hindus have normally cared to vote and, what is equally significant, they have invariably voted for ten or more candidates, if not for as many!

Not many remember certain basic features of India’s electoral landscape. Until the 1977 poll, the Congress virtually enjoyed the full or “captive” support of the Harijans and the minorities. This enabled the party to win electoral battles again and again. Some veteran observers place this support at about 25 per cent of the votes polled. The Congress thus required only a fraction of the remaining vote to win huge majorities; in 1971, it required merely an additional 18 per cent of the caste Hindu votes to win a massive majority of 352 of the 524 seats in the Lok Sabha on a minority mandate of 43 per cent --- 25 per cent plus 18 per cent. But the situation underwent a radical change in 1977, as a result of the Emergency and its many authoritarian excesses. The Muslims largely decided to oppose Mrs Gandhi and a sizable chunk of the Harijan vote also went against the Congress. The net result? The Congress Party got knocked for a six in the north and won seats only in the south.

Mrs Gandhi is well aware of the powerful support her party has received from the Harijans and the minorities. Indeed, it was this support as symbolised by Mr Jagjivan Ram and Mr Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed which enabled her to win her grim battle against the Syndicate in 1969 as also the poll of 1971. (Her first salvo against the Syndicate at the time of the great split, it may be recalled, was the joint letter Jagjivan Ram and Mr. Ahmed wrote to the then Congress President, Mr Nijalingappa, accusing him of “communalism” and of joining hands with the Jana Sangh!) Mrs Gandhi desperately tried to prevent any erosion in the support of the Harijans and the minorities in 1977. She clarified that Government action in regard to Harijans welfare had nothing to do with Mr Jagjivan Ram personally. She also repeatedly projected the Janata as a party dominated by Jana Sangh and the RSS. But all these efforts proved of little avail.

Much of what has been happening over the past few weeks is largely a part of the self-same exercise by the leading political parties: wooing the Muslim and Harijan voters by all means fair or soul and ensuring for themselves “some minimum committed support.” The Janata Party’s decision to go to the poll battle under the leadership of Mr Jagjivan Ram and to hold out to the Harijan voters the promise of giving them India’s first Harijan Prime Minister has created a major problem for both the Congress(I) end the Janata(S). More and more Harijans now appear inclined tο swing their support in favour of the Janata Party much to the chagrin of Mrs Gandhi. Efforts are consequently on to achieve one of two things: either get Babuji, as Mr Jagjivan Ram is popularly known, to somehow cross over to their side or to erode his credibility vis a vis the Harijan masses. Witness the occasional rumour that Babuji is about to join hands with Mrs Gandhi.

Ultimately, one thing alone is clear. There is little scope for going by the old and familiar indicators or by generalisations. The Muslims and the Harijans might have voted en bloc in the past. But neither can be taken for granted any more. Both communities today increasingly understand their abiding interest and are not going to be taken in by gimmickry. Likewise, the caste Hindus splintered their votes all these years. But they may not necessarily do so this time. (Lately, more and more people have been heard to say: “Is it a crime to be a Hindu?”) Again, Mrs Gandhi may appear to be riding a new wave of popularity. But there are still three months to go. The time for hard decisions is yet to come. --INFA.

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

Land ‘Grab’, ‘Acquisition’: TOTAL REMEDY, NOT NEWS VITAL, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 20 March 2 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 20 March 2024

Land ‘Grab’, ‘Acquisition’

TOTAL REMEDY, NOT NEWS VITAL

By Dhurjati Mukherjee 

The alleged land grabbing at Sandeshkhali village in West Bengal by a TMC leader continues to hit headlines, but such incidences shouldn’t come as a big surprise as the poor can rattle off cases of their land being unfairly taken either by government or business houses with support of political leaders. It’s a phenomenon across the country oft heard and rather could well even get camouflaged under the term land acquisition. 

This case has, however, drawn much more attention unlike others as it’s got entangled in the murky BJP-TMC rivalry and the alleged sexual abuse of the village women, which of course  is unacceptable in any civil society. Developments such as Prime Minister Modi referring to the incident innumerable times during his recent visits to the state; a division bench of Calcutta High Court directing the state to file an affidavit stating the plan to restore the farmlands allegedly grabbed and turned into pisciculture ponds; directing the CBI to file an affidavit stating how protection could be given to those who had lodged police complaints against land grabbing and sexual torture, domake news and shall be forgotten later. 

The larger picture, of land grab or land acquisition, which has been a phenomenon in the country since the 50s and 60s, simply gets lost. It would not be wrong to recall that even the government has somewhat forcibly taken land from people for various projects like widening of roads and highways, railway projects, power projects etc. And this has been done by paying a paltry sum to the villagers. 

At that time, there was no National Rehabilitation Policy, and the government didn’t deem it necessary to rehabilitate them properly so that these poor people could make a living at their new site. The poor were put to great distress,and some even squandered the money received in liquor and died due to untreated diseases like TB. Likewise, there’s the problem of taking away of tribal land and inadequate compensation been given, with suggestions coming that a national mission for effective implementation of FRA be set up so that all claims are sympathetically considered.  

Recall, the Tatas took away land from the poor tribals in building the township and the steel plant in Jamshedpur as per various reports to substantiate this. The suffering of those whose land was taken away had been documented as survival continued to haunt them. Insofar as land acquisition is concerned, government could justify it on grounds that it has been taken for essential infrastructure projects, but the question remains who benefits the most from such action. The roads and highways, which are normally 6-lane or even wider, to facilitate faster movement of traffic may indirectly help the greater community but essentially such movement of cars benefit the rich and middle-income sections of society. 

It is well-known that the land acquisition laws that India inherited from colonial times were undoubtedly heavily loaded against the interests of landowners and other people dependent on land for their livelihood. The Acts passed have enhanced the scale of compensation to be received by landowners and additionally provided for their rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) in the event of displacement. 

In fact, the Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Act of 2013 diluted most of the ruthless provisions of land acquisition act of 1894 and, most importantly, it made andeliberate attempt to put in place the building block for easy accessibility of land. It included the Act’s fundamental change--the introduction of compulsory prior consent from the farmer for acquiring land. Secondly, the major change in terms of replacing the administrative coercion for land acquisition with market transaction and increased finance to those left without land or livelihood. Thirdly, the Act also provided for a new national wide institutional architecture for rehabilitation and resettlement. Due to these changes, the 2013 Act has been considered as progressive and people-oriented act but only theoretically. 

Most states did not think it fit to judiciously enforce the provisions of the Act, as is the case with others. Moreover, with most of the state governments demarcating lands as Special Economic Zones, the problem has been getting worse. In recent years, the Act has been violated and its said farmers have to unwillingly part with their land with very little compensation and a bleak future. 

Land acquisition is indeed a sensitive subject and there are reports indicating that people whose land has been virtually taken have not benefitted to the extent they should have. It is critical ry to take stock of how much land has been taken away in the last five decades or so and whether the people, whose land has been taken away, are properly rehabilitated, as per the National Rehabilitation Policy, and earning enough for a decent livelihood for themselves and their family.    

Plus, the need to have case studies of land mafias, across states including West Bengal, Jharkhand and Bihar,who takeover land by paying a paltry sum of compensation to further their own business. It is also feared that in majority cases, the people who take away such land have the blessings of the ruling party, and in some others, leaders get a share of such transactions.  

Not only should fair and just compensation be given, but culprits who cheat the poor in the process of acquiring land must be brought to book. Experts have rightly sought the need for an independent expert committee to look into the right of the land loser to get fair compensation and transparency in land acquisition as also his consent in the matter. Unfortunately, the Act does not provide clear guidelines for calculation of what could be said ‘fair compensation’. And needs correction, keeping in view the rehabilitation aspect of the land loser. Additionally, there should be judicious resettlement and rehabilitation of the families affected. Failure to comply with these provisions should be viewed strictly and made punishable. Headlines of land grab or action against a solitary case is not a remedy.---INFA 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

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