On the one hand, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, who calls himself a ‘kisan ka beta’, wants to earn a following with farmers. On the other hand, he wants to be seen as investor-friendly. But industry needs land; so do farmers. And farmers seem unwilling to give up their land. Whatever the price offered. On November 13, Sunia Bai, a woman farmer from a village in Katni district, to the northeast of the state, committed suicide by setting herself ablaze. She’d received a government notice asking her to vacate her 4.5-acre farmland. It was part of 920 acres being acquired by the government for a 1,320 MW thermal plant being set up by Welspun Energy Ltd.
The woman’s death triggered a chita satyagraha: setting up funeral pyres in their fields, farmers threatened to immolate themselves if their land was taken. Later, a farmer from Katni tried to kill himself by consuming poison. This time, the protests were violent. In panic, the government sent agriculture minister Ramkrishna Kusmaria to the region. Instead of cooling tempers, he inflamed the protesters by calling them dalals.
The opposition Congress sprang in: at a December 2 kisan rally in Katni, AICC general secretary Digvijay Singh lambasted Chauhan’s “anti-farmer policies”. He sat upon a pyre in symbolic solidarity with the farmers. Ajay Singh, leader of the opposition in the Madhya Pradesh assembly, says, “Even the British raj did not suppress farmers this way.”
The government had more cause for caginess: the state human rights commission ruled that the police had used excessive force on farmers blocking a highway in May in Raisen district. One farmer had died in police firing. The commission also determined that 18 rounds fired on the protesters had come from an AK-47 assault rifle.
The quandary Chauhan faces is that, at a global investors’ meeting in Indore, the government had signed MoUs with 108 companies, promising them land. Under agreements signed earlier, land is to be procured for 60 industries. Of these, Moser Baer seeks 1,800 acres for a thermal power plant in Anuppur district and the Avanta group seeks 800 acres for a power plant in Seoni district. An MP Industrial Development Corporation report says private investors have already acquired 19,000 hectares of farmland for setting up industries. Farmers are wisening up. In the Chhindwara, Singrauli and Damoh districts, protesters say they won’t have their land taken under an antiquated, 177-year-old law.
The spate of investors’ meets Chauhan has organised stands in opposition to his attempts, in years past, to project himself as a kisan ka neta. In 2011, he had threatened a protest fast if the Centre did not clear a Rs 2,200-crore compensation package for farmers who lost their crop to hailstorms. He then treatened a dharna outside Parliament if the Centre failed to supply enough gunny sacks for storing wheat procurements. And earlier this year, the state procured 85 lakh metric tonnes of wheat—the largest procurement among all states. Chauhan began to be seen as a benefactor of farmers.
Now, he’s in a fix. If he wants to keep industrialists smiling, he will have to provide land. And that will hurt farmers. It will be interesting to see how he wriggles out of this sticky situation.
Outlook magazine has taken up an extremely important matter and one which deserves analysis without referring to politics.
India needs industrial development. An industrialist will always want to set up an industrial unit in a place where production efficiencies are maximised - ideally this will be in such an area where nobody else will be harmed but practically, it may very well lead to displacement.
So, what is the solution? The only lasting solution is to make the farmer a stakeholder. But how? After all, his area of expertise is agriculture - which may not be of relevance to the concerned industry.
One way out is to create a legal entity whose asset would be the land bank and make farmers the shareholders in the entity in proportion to their land holdings. Industry could then lease the land from the entity directly and rental income could then be disbursed to the land owners. Taking this idea forward, the farmers could themselves develop an industrial park and rent it out to the highest bidder.
Another idea is to create a separate company for every project which seeks to come up on agricultural land and make the farmers shareholders in proportion to their land holdings in a mutually acceptable formula. The farmers would then become the owners and be entitled to dividend income.
There is also the rights of sharecroppers and landless labourers - many of whom would have a relationship with the farmer going back generations.
Also, we need to figure out the notional future income from such entities. What, again, would be the income the erstwhile farmer would presumably make from an alternate (non-farming) activity. Would his consolidated real income go up or down?
To reiterate, this has got nothing to do with politics - it is an extremely important matter pertaining to national development. Let Outlook magazine led the vanguard of this analysis.
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