Anatomy of Obfuscation

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Open secret Where there’s a Bill, there’s a way, the government thinks

If you thought that despite a brute majority in Parliament, the controversial land Bill will become less anti-farmer because a Joint Parliamentary Committee (jpc) is considering it, think again. Accusations of ‘Ordinance Raj’ greeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he promulgated an ordinance for an unprecedented third time while the jpc headed by senior bjp leader SS Ahluwalia was still looking into the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Second Amendment) Bill, 2015.

Confidential files from the Joint Committee on Land Acquisition Cell in the Lok Sabha Secretariat accessed by Tehelka hint that the government machinery is keen to artfully distort the general tone of depositions given by concerned farmer organisations, other peoples’ movements working in rural areas and individual experts who were critical of amendments.

The document marked as ‘confidential’ and which contains compilation of “clause-wise analysis of the suggestions made by the experts/ stakeholders, etc, in the memoranda submitted to the committee” was circulated to members by Tirthankar Das, Deputy Secretary in the Acquisition Cell.

While several JPC members to whom Tehelka spoke have confirmed that there was an ‘unprecedented anger’ expressed by organisations of rural poor and credible experts in their depositions. But a close look into the compilation of the depositions show selective filtering which could seriously compromise the final product. For instance, detailed and meticulous contentions given by Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan (BAA), the largest umbrella organisation which represents rural and urban poor, are not at all reflected in the document.

This distortion is also visible when it comes to the under-representation of depositions given by the Medha Patkar-led National Alliance of People’s Movement (NAPM) as well as All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), arguably the largest organisation of Indian farmers, with a membership over two crore.

Even Sangh Parivar ideologue KN Govindacharya gets short shrift, since he opposes the “land grab” that critics say the Bill will enable. His deposition is sandwiched between those of the Construction Federation of India and Builders Association of India and the farmer unions. The builders’ deposition reads ‘general suggestions in favour of the Bill’. Govindacharya only gets ‘honourable mention’. “He has made his suggestions before the committee,” says the note.

The baa, napm and several organisations and individuals critical of amendments get a cryptic comment: “They have made their submission before the committee”.

Tehelka asked a member of the JPC how exactly this will play out. “Usually all members won’t participate in all sittings,” he explained. “The MPs who missed sittings Govindacharya form their opinion based on studying the compilation of depositions. If the compilation is not accurately representing the reality of depositions due to this filtering, it can seriously damage the very foundations of parliamentary democracy.”

Interestingly, the compilation tries to give expansive space to those who are in favour of the Bill in its present shape. The classic case is that of Loksatta Party leader Jayaprakash Narayan, whose think tank, the Foundation of Democratic Reforms, argues that “by making the consent amount the market value, and providing four times that as compensation, the law makes acquisition costs absurdly high”. His other pro-government positions are also adequately represented.

Another stratagem is to cite relatively unknown people with not much direct link to agriculture which were strangely given more space. The general tone of those depositions is that amendments are a must for the growth of the country, argued by invoking idioms of ultra nationalism.

All this suggests the JPC will suggest only cosmetic changes that would not reflect the ground reality. As per BJP insiders, the government will claim it took a middle path after taking the JPC report into account.

But growing opposition from the rural poor and a resurgent opposition can alter the political fate of the Modi government if it completely ignores the ground reality.

nidheesh@tehelka.com

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