Why We Need to Re-Think Our Relationship With Land, in Chhattisgarh and Beyond

The newly-elected government of Chhattisgarh has come good on one of its election promises. It has declared that the 1,764 hectares of land acquired from adivasi farmers for Tata Steel in Lohandiguda and nine other villages in Bastar, will be returned to them.

Ten years after acquisition, there is no sign of a steel plant. The company appears to have lost interest in the site. With industry not taking off, there is no reason to not return the land to its earlier users.

The action of the Chhattisgarh government is unusual, which is why it has made the national news. At the same time, the predicament of the Tatas in Bastar is quite common. The multiple factors that go into capital taking root: the coming together of land, labour, investment and enterprise in a secure and economically conducive environment – need not materialise.

If this is the case, why does big capital and the governments that facilitate it, squat on land? Why is land put on a linear trajectory of agriculture, grazing or other commons use in the primary sector giving way to industry, infrastructure, real estate or other secondary or tertiary sector activity? Why would most governments rather ‘bank’ or hold on to land unused by industry, instead of returning it to its previous users?

The answers lie in our relationship with land, and with nature more broadly. For a couple of centuries at least, human ‘progress’ or modernity has been identified with the institutional control of nature. Humans and their institutions have measured success through the capture, manipulation and disciplining of nature for producing uniformity, productivity and organised social and economic life. Our dams, mass scientific agriculture, mining, industry, big infrastructure and urban conglomerations are all symbols of this modernity, extracted from our domination of nature.

In this growth and GDP-obsessed mindset, land can go from small scale agriculture and pasture to modern industry. But it cannot go the other way; it cannot be reverted from industry or possible industrialisation to ‘mere’ farming.

That would be anti-development when development equals economic and spatial expansion. As a senior bureaucrat told me in Delhi in 2012: “how long can our people go on digging holes in the ground? We need to enter a 24/7 lifestyle.” The derision for rural Indians ‘digging holes’ was echoed by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi in parliament in 2015.

Despite prevailing attitudes, climate change demands that we rethink our relationship with nature. Profound environmental degradation brought about by indiscriminate exploitation has taken us to a point where our continued existence on this planet is in serious question. This moment demands that we break from our established ideas. Our engagement with land is a good place to start. We don’t have to look far to discover that the dominant elite’s ideas of linear land use – going from supposedly less to more productive, or ‘24/7’ use – have challengers.

Since 2008, the Dongria Kondh peoples of the Niyamgiri hills have successfully fought the handover of bauxite mining rights of these forested and inhabited areas, to Vedanta Alumina Ltd. for an aluminium refinery. They have protested what they see as land grab, which has endangered their forest-dependent livelihoods, the local environment and their entire way of life.

Instead of a uni-dimensional engagement with land for extraction or construction, the Dongria Kondh show us a multi-dimensional perspective. Here, land is livelihood, but it is also life itself. It is the air we breathe and the environment we live in. For them, land is also enlivened in hosting that which they hold sacred. Their deity Niyam Raja is believed to reside in the hills of Niyamgiri.

In the linear march of modernity, the views of the Dongria Kondh may be archaic and far-removed from the fast-paced, glass and chrome lifestyles we have come to value. But in a mindset of environmental sustainability tethered to survival, rather than unrelenting economic growth, the Kondh and many others are signalling alternatives to us.

We don’t even have to rely on indigenous groups to rethink what land and nature are to us. My decade-long, field-based research with stakeholders in land – ranging from government officials and politicians to land-brokers and farmers – evinces multiple ways of seeing and engaging with land.

Multi-dimensional land

My interviewees speak of land as the base of economic growth and livelihood. But they also see it as home, as history, memory and ancestry (baap-dada ki zamin ‘land belonging to forefathers’). Land may be considered sacred: spaces in which we pray and invoke that which is holy. Land is territory to be contested, demarcated and secured. Land is politics: it is emotive, worth fighting for, it attracts voters and votes. It is property, over which we have state-adjudicated rights. It is powers of access and exclusion, or the ability to go past the framework of property via mechanisms of possession or kabza.

Land is also materially dynamic, with the boundaries between water, air and land being geomorphologically fluid. In other words, mountains change shape, or beaches appear and disappear as a matter of course. Humans, too, fill water bodies or reclaim the sea, making it hard to distinguish between where water ends and land begins in many contexts.

We engage with land multi-dimensionally everyday. We relate to it through economic, but also social, political, territorial, historical and environmental registers. In a multi-dimensional perspective, land moves in and out of commodity status, if it enters that condition at all. This land can be exchanged on the market but is far from just a marketable thing.

Yet we insist on holding up an artificial, uni-dimensional ideal in our administrative and policy-making discourses. In this view, we fail to look beyond land as a commodity, on an irreversible trajectory of ever-greater making of economic value.

Recent land acquisition legislation, which laudably brings a framework of transparency, participation and fair compensation in the transfer of land from supposedly less to more productive use, continues to fall within a utilitarian, commodity-centric perspective.

In its actions around land identified for the Tata plant, the Chhattisgarh government has shown a broader administrative and environmental vision. With or without intention, it has opened up the space for a much-needed discussion of multi-dimensional land. Apart from various governments’ political longevity, our existence on this planet may depend on changing up the same old ’24/7′ conversation.

2018, the year that was:Land acquisition biggest hurdle for Purandar airport to take off

The Maharashtra government had declared that the first flight from the proposed Chhatrapati Sambhaji Raje International Airport project at Purandar is expected take off by 2019. However, considering the pace of the process of land acquisition by the state government,the opening of the airport in 2019 appears to be a distant dream.

CS Gupta, executive director, Maharashtra Airport Development Company (MADC) said, “The minimum time required for the government to complete the process of land acquisition is one year. However, considering the fact that we have already received the permission required for the construction of the proposed International airport in Purandar, we are in a position to complete the project ensuring the first flight takes off in 2019 given the fact that the land acquisition happens in due time.”

Ever since the announcement of the international airport in Purandar, the farmers of the seven villages comprising of Pargaon, Khanwadi, Ekhatpur, Kumbharvalan, Vanpuri and Udachiwadi, Tekwadi have been staging protest till date in the form of gram sabhas, agitating in front of tehsil office, district collectorate, rasta roko and passing resolutions to the effect in gram sabhas etc.

Farmers from these villages have time and again refused to give their land for the proposed airport in Purandar which will be spread over 2,400 hectares.

Bappu Memane, the sarpanch of Pargav Mevani village, said, “As long as we are alive, we will continue to oppose the project in Purandar. The government, under the name of development, has become blind to the problems that farmers face. The state government should realise that we are ordinary farmers and that we don’t need an airport. Instead, facilities that we need are electricity, water, fertilisers and other basic things that are indispensable for us.”

However, Naval Kishore Ram, Pune district collector is confident of land acquisition despite opposition from the villagers. He said, “We are confident of completing the process of land acquisition by taking the consent of all the farmers. We will convince them for the land acquisition by highlighting the benefits of the proposed International airport in Purandar.”

Courtesy: Hindustan times

छत्तीसगढ़: लीज के नियम पूरे ना करने पर टाटा समूह से वापस ली जाएगी 1700 हेक्टेयर जमीन

छत्तीसगढ़ की नवनिर्वाचित कांग्रेस सरकार ने यहां टाटा समूह को स्टील प्लांट लगाने के लिए दी गई करीब 1700 हेक्टेयर जमीन को वापस लेने का निर्णय किया है। राज्य के बस्तर स्थित इस जमीन को टाटा समूह से लिए जाने के बाद इसे किसानों को वापस दिया जाएगा। मंगलवार को इस फैसले की जानकारी राज्य सरकार के मंत्री रवींद्र चौबे ने दी।
मंत्री रवींद्र चौबे ने मीडिया से बात करते हुए कहा कि पूर्व में टाटा समूह द्वारा किसानों से इस जमीन को स्टील प्लांट के लिए लिया गया था, लेकिन कंपनी ने अधिग्रहण के बाद लीज के लिए तय नियमों का पालन नहीं किया। इसे देखते हुए सीएम भूपेश बघेल ने अधिकारियों को जमीन वापसी संबंधित प्रस्ताव बनाने के निर्देश दिए थे। सीएम के निर्देश के बाद इस जमीन की वापसी की कार्रवाई शुरू की गई।

इससे पहले कांग्रेस अध्यक्ष राहुल गांधी ने भी बस्तर में अपनी रैली के दौरान यहां के किसानों को उनकी जमीन वापस दिलाने का वादा किया था। इसके अलावा पार्टी के घोषणा पत्र में भी यह ऐलान किया गया था कि छत्तीसगढ़ में अधिग्रहीत वह सभी जमीन जिस पर अधिग्रहण के पांच साल के भीतर कोई प्रॉजेक्ट स्थापित नहीं हुआ हो किसानों को वापस दिलाई जाएगी। बाद में सरकार बनने के बाद खुद सीएम भूपेश बघेल ने जमीन वापसी के लिए अधिकारियों को प्रस्ताव बनाने और इसे कैबिनेट की बैठक में प्रस्तुत करने के निर्देश दिए थे।

Courtesy: Nav Bharat Times

NGT orders reopening of Vedanta copper plant in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi

The National Green Tribunal has set aside the Tamil Nadu Government’s order closing down the Vedanta-owned Sterlite Copper factory in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu.

The Tribunal has also directed the state pollution control board to renew a key licence, Consent To Operate, and remove other hurdles subject to fulfilment of certain conditions, within three weeks from now. Read more

Courtesy: The Economic Times

Chennai-Mysore bullet train to reduce travel time by 5 hours; Germany sends proposal

The feasibility report for the 435 km Chennai-Arakkonam-Bengaluru-Mysore route was submitted to Railway Board Chairman Ashwani Lohani by German Ambassador Martin Ney yesterday. According to report, the route will be 85% elevated and will boast 11 per cent tunnels, and by travelling at a maximum speed of around 320 kmph the proposed train could significantly cut down travel time from the current seven hours. Read more

Courtesy: Business today

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