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Rural India and Rural China: both battling against land acquisitions


In a few days from now, the Narmada Bachao Andolan will reflect on the 25 years of struggle 'questioning displacement, assertion of land and forest rights, right to fisheries, right to food and health, livelihood security, exposure of corruption and navnirman (reconstruction) through the Jeevanshalas (life schools), micro-hydel projects, and solar projects.' The struggle that began in 1985 questions the flawed policies in the name of development and economic growth. Growth for whom and what cost?

According to the NBA, rallies and public meetings at both the places — Dhadgaon in district Nandurbar in Maharashtra, and Badwani in district Badwani in Madhya Pradesh on Oct 22 and 23, respectively — amidst adivasis of Nandurbar, Alirajpur and farmers from the plains of Nimad would be reinforced with presence of some of the well-wishers from outside. Some months back, after I returned from the Narmada valley, I had written an analysis: Over 200,000 Narmada Dam oustees still to be rehabilitated; a crime that goes unpunished for 25 years.

In that article I had not touched on the issue of construction of the proposed canal systems leading to destruction of irrigated lands. I don't know how the planners can justify the need for canals in an area which is already irrigated by pipes and water bodies being saturated by water from the Narmada river. The dichotomy is brought out clearly in a letter to the Minister for Environment & Forests by a group of respected citizens. You must read the letter to know how development is flawed, and how it aims at only helping usurping land from the control of poor tribal.

"The land being acquired for the canals are the best of fertile agricultural lands on the banks of the Narmada and nearby; which are already receiving pipeline irrigation supply from the river itself and hence do not require canals to feed them. it is absolutely irrational to bring in river water through a canal by destroying the best of land — and livelihoods — when the same water is already irrigating village land. The already irrigated land for more than 50 per cent of the proposed command area to be irrigated," the letter says. It has been signed among others by L C Jain, Upendra Baxi, and Kuldeep Nayyar.

The battle for land is not only confined to the Narmada valley. In the past few years, the government is trying to acquire agricultural land across the country under one pretext of the other. In one of my blog posts, I had written: Pitched battles are being fought across the country by the poor and deprived, who fear further marginalisation when their land is literally grabbed by the government on behalf of the industry. Over the years agriculture has been deliberately turned into a losing proposition as a result of which farmers, in most places, are keen to move out provided they get a better price for their land. [You can read the article at http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.com/2010/08/rural-india-on-boil-land-literally.html]

In Madhya Pradesh alone, in central India, as per the data released by the Home Department and tabled in the State Assembly, the number of rural protests had soared from 67 in 2005 to 252 in 2009. To dispel the public protests, police acted acted 35 times, using tear gas 17 times and firing bullets on 8 occasions. As per the official statistics, most of the rural protests were by farmers against land acquisitions.

As rural India rises in protest against land acquisitions, a section of the English media has been telling us that the nation has to draw a lesson from China where land acquisitions have transformed the country and is projecting it on the path to high economic growth. Somehow the impression being given is that it is as if the rural people in China are voluntarily giving up their land for the sake of country's economic growth. Nothing can be further from truth. Rural China too knows that the forcible land
acquisitions is aimed at snatching away from them their last hope of economic security.

 
This picture above is a scene of a bloody protest that took place in Longxu town in Guangxi province in China on Oct 13. According to reports, about a thousand villagers clashed with hundreds of police officials. They battled with homemade gasoline bombs, bricks and rods. They were protesting against an irrigation project. So it is not only in India that people rise against unwanted irrigation projects, China too faces the same problem. 
 
According to GlobalVoices blog: "During the fight, one police officer's eyeball was smashed, another one had a head injury. All the police officers from Cangwu county were blocked at the intersection of Xindi Road. Two police dogs were beaten to death. Later, 8 military carriages of armed police from Wuzhou city were mobilized to the spot and later 5 other military carriages of armed police from Cenxi also joined in. The move had attracted thousands of onlookers and eventually the police had to use tear gas to clear the scene." [Read the full report at: http://globalvoicesonline.org/2010/10/16/china-riot-against-land-acquisition-in-guangxi/]
 
This is what a Chinese villager said: "At present, my village only have 9 pieces of water rice field nearby the lower stream of the river. All have been sold away… what we had got from the compensation was not even enough to buy an apartment… Have you ever tried to understand the situation?? How can we make a living in the future?? For the past 20 yeas in Cangwu county, I have witnessed how the government cheated the people… Now what we have here is all about property market. Limshui is the best example. The government did not even preserve land for relocation in Longwu, Xianglong and Guangchang. In Kan Village, all the lands were acquired in the name of public interest. The government cheated away our land and now I have little confidence but a lot of anger and resentment."
 
Much of China and India, the two giants, is being rendered landless. Thanks to our political leaders, the masses are being pauperised so as to fill the pockets of the rich and influential. The profits that the rich garner in the process is counted as economic growth. Whether it is a democracy or a communist regime, both follow the same flawed economic prescription. We should also remain perpetually grateful due to the mainline economists for actually laying out a faulty paradigm of economic growth that in reality widens economic disparities, and has led the world to a tripping point. Not only global warming, the economic model of development has also brought the world close to an unprecedented social unrest and chaos. 
 
You just have to wait and watch. 

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