The term development is hijacked by multinational companies and their campaign managers, says P V Rajagopal , member, National Land Reforms Council and president Ekta Parishad, a Gandhian organisation fighting for the rights of Dalits and tribal. In an interview to TSI's K Sunilkumar, he says land is the biggest issue
How do you see the ongoing agitations for land in various states?
Struggle for land is a major issue in various states. Despite 60 years since Independence, the governments have not been able to solve the problem. A major portion of the land in the country is still with a handful of mighty people. And the number of poor, landless persons throughout the country is increasing by the day. Dalits, tribals and other marginalised sections are the victims of this issue. Simultaneously, the struggle for land has converted itself into a political issue in several states. In West Bengal, Kerala, Orissa, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh, the land issue has now come to occupy centre stage.
Does the dispossession of people for developmental activities also pose a challenge?
In the name of development, governments forcibly acquire land from the people. For creating expressways and highways, people have been evacuated from their ancestral land. With new roads, the number of vehicles will also go up exponentially. To meet the demand for more vehicles, motor companies have to perpetually identify land for new vehicle production units. Peasants are being forcibly evacuated from their cultivable land. The increasing demand for fuel has also become an issue for farmers. In a move to resolve the fuel crisis, state governments and other agencies are trying to find out alternative fuels like Jetropha. In Rajasthan and Chattisgarh, large areas have been used to cultivate Jetropha. With this, farmers have lost the land which rightfully belongs to them.
Another problem is SEZs and other large projects.
The situation is very alarming. Land grabbing is the real agenda for Multinational Corporate companies within India or outside. Even in UP, where Dalit messiah Mayawati is in power, there is a proposal to build a 20-km Taj Corridor along the bank of River Yamuna. When the corridor comes into existence, 80 villages in the region will lose their source of drinking water. In Kalahandi and Raigad in Orissa, a large area has been set aside for bauxite mining, as part of a project to construct a port. Tata proposes to build a giant steel unit in Jharkhand and instal 300 mini-hydel stations in Uttaranchal . These projects will displace lakhs of people and majority of them are Dalits and other marginalised section.
There is an argument that these land agitations are anti-development. How do you develop without land?
The term development should be redefined. Development has been hijacked by multinational companies and their campaign managers. Their virulent campaigns have silenced many voices from the marginalised sections of society. Is it right to say that `development' is only for the development of Tata, Birla, Harrison or Reliance? I cannot agree with this argument. Development is a process designed for the well being of all, from top to bottom. Development will be meaningful if there was no hungry man left in the country. Ignoring this one basic issue, one cannot talk of development.
What about the land policy of the Centre and state governments?
Land is a ladder for betterment of life. But when people reach the glorious heights in life, they should handover the ladder to those who have no other means of survival. Agricultural development is also part of our country's development. Our governments are busy implementing the World Bank agenda on land reforms. According to them, it is time to put to an end the land reforms issue. For them land to the people means only bare living space for a family. The demand for distribution of agricultural land is not going to be solved with this limited, one-sided agenda.
Land struggles are gaining momentum in other countries also.
The struggle for land is gaining momentum in various parts of the world, including America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Indigenous people become landless because corporate giants have grabbed their lands in connivance with their governments. There is a powerful land struggle on in the Latin American countries, especially in Brazil where the landless are fighting every inch for land. In such a vast country, nearly 80 percent of people still live in slums and over 100 multinational firms between them hold majority of the land. Only three percent of land has been transferred to the poor in South Africa even after its independence. In the US, the first citizens (terms used for natives), are still fighting for land. Europe, too, witnesses a peasants struggle for land.
How do you view the land issue in Kerala and Bengal which are ruled by Leftist governments?
The attitude of Left governments in Kerala and Bengal is really shocking. Though the Communist parties claim themselves to be pro-poor, in both states their governments and party cadres try to suppress the voice of landless people. I am at a loss to understand CPM's approach in Kerala which is reluctant to hold a dialogue with Dalit organisations agitating for land. I believe that the Chengara issue is sustaining itself because of this attitude.
Moreover, Communist parties in India have changed their policies and attitude along with their line on globalisation. They have reached the conclusion that the land reform process has come to an end. Their leadership and the Left government has rejected the demand for a second round of land reforms which assures land to Dalits and tribals in the country. According to them industrialiation is the only way out for development. So they are in a tearing hurry to allot as much land as possible to Tatas, Salim Group, Birla, Harrison and other corporate houses.
Like Chengara in Kerala, Dalits and tribals are in the forefront of land struggle. How do you view this?
I think this is a new phenomenon. It is also in the right direction. Dalits, tribals and other marginalized people are the major victims of globalization. And now they have realised that no government or political party can help them to acquire land and other basic rights guranteed under the Constitution.
Is there any move to integrate these various agitations?
Ekta Parishad is trying to bring these various organizations and movements under a common platform. We have created a forum called National Campaign for Land and Livelihood for this purpose. We have already opened an office in New Delhi for the forum.