Skip to main content

Gujarat's 'skewed' land liberalization

Nikita Sud
I have in my hand one of the latest books on Hindu nationalism and Gujarat, which on cursory glance would appear to be the examination of a subject, many would allege, has become quite hackneyed. I also thought so till I decided to scan it from page to page. Authored by Nikita Sud, a University of Oxford scholar, and titled "Liberalization, Hindu Nationalism and the State: A Biography of Gujarat", what impressed me particularly was the book's couple of chapters on how the state, over the years, has sought to consistently promote land liberalization, irrespective of the political class, and how this liberalization has become the cornerstone of the protagonists of market-based development, seeking to encourage entrepreneurs wanting to put up shop in Gujarat as a "preferred" destinations.
Sud came down to Gandhinagar from London, where she is based, about a couple of years ago, when she was in the process of preparing the book. Daughter of a retired IAS bureaucrat, Sunil Sud, whom I peripherally knew, Nikita Sud, I found, had an added advantage, which many others don't have - access to government officials and documents. This, as one can see in the chapters on land liberalization, appears to have added precision to her study. The subject has excited me ever since I landed in Gujarat in 1993, when land was not such a saleable commodity as it is today. As a rule, at that time, only a farmer living within the periphery of eight-kilometres of a farmland could buy or sell land. The rule continued till 1995, when the then chief minister Keshubhai Patel abrogated it without difficulty.
The result is there for all to see. Anyone on paper having a land title can buy or sell land anywhere in Gujarat, making land perhaps the most costly commodity. A new class of landowning speculators has emerged, who buys land cheap and sells it off high. These speculators have strong interests in other commercial activities, too. They are turning into capitalist farmers, builders and real estate agents. As farm income is accounted in cash, they have learnt the fine art of diverting black money earned from urban projects into white by offering fake farm bills. Ministers and MLAs are among those who have gained, even as small farmers who sell off their land have turned into landless workers. Ultimately, Sud suggests, it is the powerful corporate sector which will gain from the process.
Though farmland can be bought by a farmer living anywhere in Gujarat, Sud insists, the situation has come to such a point where the "pro-liberalization lobby" wants the removal of all restrictions - on leasing, on the conversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes, on upward revision of ceilings, on incentives for the private sector for investing in rural infrastructure, on ease of entry for national and multinational companies in rural areas and peri-urban areas, on ability to lease or purchase land through direct interaction with farmers, and on the speeding up of the acquisition process by the government. She says, "While agricultural land has become the focus of the land liberalization debate, forest, coastal, pastoral, and other common property has also come within its range. Often passed off as 'wasteland', this resource is readily being made available for use in the new economy."
There are, of course, groups, both in the government and outside, which seek institutional safeguards for the urban and especially rural poor. To quote Sud, "They want a sincere implementation of land reform, particularly, the use of ceiling on ownership limits, and redistribution. Other demands include the ending of absentee landlordism, security of tenancy, protection of the land of adivasis and the return to them of alienated land, and the preservation of common land." Even a Planning Commission report has come out against "indiscriminate, large-scale, ecologically damaging, socially harmful transfers of agricultural land to non-agricultural users", even as identifying "non-implementation of land reforms and the alienation of tribal land and redistributive justice as the root cause of rural unrest." Even then, these lobbies have lost out almost completely. "The momentum for protesting land liberalization has just not been there in the Gujarat of 1990s and beyond", she says quoting members of civil society.
Elaborating how the principle of "land to the tiller", first splashed in 1950s in Saurashtra and revived for political end 1980s by the then chief minister Madhavsinh Solanki, was continuously sought to be undermined, Sud says, "Politics has aided, indeed made possible, the liberalization of land." Though there was some resistance, as seen in 1994, when the attempt to abolish the eight-kilometre limit to buy or sell farmland failed, the very next year, the BJP government "passed the relevant bill in the legislative assembly." The Congress, despite its verbal opposition, has supported the move. She quotes a Congress politician to say how "different parties in Gujarat have espoused the same land policies", as "ideologies have nothing to do with it." Things have come to such a pass that there is "hassle-free access to land" by international and national corporate firms. The access of over 1,000 acres of land to the Tatas' Nano car project, shifted from West Bengal, is cited as an example of this.


Popular posts from this blog

Surprised? Communist candidate in Ahmedabad bypoll in a Hindutva bastion

On October 11, 2019 morning, as I was scanning through daily news online (I don’t read papers now), I found that both BJP and Congress candidates from Ahmedabad’s Amraiwadi assembly constituency, which fell vacant following the victory of its BJP MLA in the Lok Sabha polls, have been asked to explain as to why they had cash in hand for election campaign, and why they did not deposit their money in a bank account. Fighting the bypoll, BJP’s Jagdish Patel and Congress’ Dharmendra Patel had declared they possessed Rs 1.81 lakh and Rs 1.70 lakh as cash in hand, respectively, for election expenditure.

When Gandhi said Congress can 'only die with the nation'; warned of its weedy growth

I don’t recall when, why and how, but I have been under the impression for decades that Mahatma Gandhi wanted the Congress dissolved after India attained Independence. However, a few days ago, I was pleasantly surprised on seeing a Facebook post by Hari Desai, a well-known Gujarati journalist and a Sardar Patel expert, putting on record and claiming that this, indeed, was never the case. Desai released the photograph of “Harijan”, edited by Gandhi himself, dated February 1, 1948, which carried an article by Gandhi written on January 27, 1948, three days before he was murdered, clearly stating that the “Indian National Congress ... cannot be allowed to die”, and that it can “only die with the nation.”

A top Gujarat High Court lawyer who lived and worked for the underprivileged

When I came to Ahmedabad to join as assistant editor of the Times of India in 1993, I didn’t know Girish Patel was a senior advocate of the Gujarat High Court. Apart from assisting the then editor, Tushar Bhatt, my job was to specifically look after the editorial page, which also meant I should be selecting from among the letters to the editor that we would get, edit them appropriately, and put them in the Letters to the Editor column.

Attack on Gandhi: Where diehard Left and extreme Right appear to meet

Another Gandhi Jayanti has come and gone. Several of the top comments – some which we also published in – on this occasion hovered around US president Donald Trump calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi “father of India”. Perhaps things wouldn’t have taken a turn that it did had not Modi’s “diehard” followers like Union minister Jitendra Singh going so far as to say that those who “do not feel proud” of Trump’s comment that Modi is the “father of India”, do not consider themselves Indians.

Nitish Kumar a 'Modi-fied' chief minister 'refusing' to hark to reason

Yesterday, I came across an unusual Facebook post by my veteran journalist colleague, Law Kumar Mishra. It recalls an incident which took place when Mishra was posted in Rajkot as the Times of India correspondent during of the worst droughts in the region in late 1980s. At that time Amarsinh Chaudhury was Gujarat chief minister. Currently Patna, Mishra compares how Chaudhary handled drought with the way Nitish Kumar has been handling Bihar floods.

The enigma called Amit Shah

Those were turbulent days. It was, I remember, second half of March 2002. The post-Godhra riots in Ahmedabad, as elsewhere in Gujarat, may have lost their intensity, but rioting had still not stopped. It was my first meeting with Amit Shah, Gujarat’s former minister of state for home, who has shot into prominence after the CBI arrested him in 2010 allegedly for being an accomplice in a triple murder case, involving the fake encounter of a gangster, Sohrabuddin Sheikh, his wife Kauserbi, and aide Tulsiram Prajapati. At that time, he was MLA from what then was one of the largest state assembly constituencies, Sarkhej, in Ahmedabad, with a voters’ strength of 10 lakh. All that I knew of him was, he was “very popular” in his constituency, almost invincible. He had just met chief minister Narendra Modi, and I had a very vague idea on his proximity to Modi, who had taken over reins in Gujarat.
Shah was coming out of the chief minister’s office (CMO), situated on the fifth floor of Block No…

Tree-felling for greenery? Despite MoU Gujarat govt 'refuses' to implement proposal

The other day, I went to Nadiad, a town in Central Gujarat, about 55 kilometres from Ahmedabad. For a change, I took an alternate route, which falls between two toll roads – the Expressway and the National Highway. What surprised me was, I saw truckloads of wooden logs moving to and fro on this state highway soon after I left Ahmedabad. I was immediately reminded of a "tree enthusiast" I had met in 2007. Introduced by former chief secretary PK Laheri, who was then chairman of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL), Jayantibhai Lakdawala came to my Times of India office in Gandhinagar with a unique proposal, which, he said, he had put up before the Gujarat government to grow more trees.

Enlightened Buddha didn't want monks to get enchanted by the glance of a woman

Some of my Dalit friends, including Martin Macwan, whom I respect as one of the best human rights activists I have met, have a great fascination for Buddhism. Nearly all Dalit rallies or functions I have attended carry with them Buddha’s photographs. Probably, one reason could be that Dalit icon Babasaheb Ambedkar converted to Buddhism because he believed this was the only religion of India which does not believe in casteism. Many Dalits, not without reason, get converted to Buddhism.

Rupani is a better choice as Gujarat CM, but is that enough?

You can be a frank and an approachable leader, but is that enough for you to solve social issues which bog society? Soon after Vijay Rupani became Gujarat chief minister on August 5 evening, a top Sachivalaya insider, whom I have known for more than a decade, phoned me up to know what people thought of “the new incumbent”. Hesitant, I told him that he knew Rupani for quite some time, in fact ever since Rupani was in the Rajkot Municipal Corporation, hence he should know better. Refusing to be named, he didn’t mince words, “Rupani is frank, approachable, dynamic”, adding, “It has always been a boon to work with him.”

Why Hindu rites make me recall theatre of absurd and Backet's Waiting for Godot

As I was student of English literature for five long years (1970-75), doing my BA (Hons) and MA course from Delhi University, I (quite like my classmates) never read anything about a term towards which I was to become fascinated in late 1970s -- theatre of the absurd – apparently because it was a French concept. Coined by critic Martin Esslin in his 1960 essay "Theatre of the Absurd", at that time I had only vaguely knew that it pertained to post-World War II plays written by European playwrights.