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Lesson for Narendra Modi from Akhilesh Yadav: How UP govt acquired land for the Rs 15,000 crore expressway without rebellion

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By NewsGram Staff Writer

As the debate over the land acquisition bill is gaining momentum across the country, the Uttar Pradesh government led by the Samajwadi Party (SP) has acquired nearly 3,000 hectares of fertile land for its six-lane Agra-Lucknow greenfield expressway project, which is worth Rs 15,000 crore, without any opposition.

According to a report in The Times of India (TOI), “While the farmer groups vehemently protested against the alleged dilution of the consent clause in the central government’s land ordinance, around 30,074 farmers in UP gave up their fertile tracts of the Indo-Gangetic plain, willingly.”

UP Expressway Industrial Development Authority (UPEIDA), the nodal agency for implementing the project said that they avoided the ‘acquisition’ process entirely. “Instead of acquiring land as is usually done, it was decided to purchase land from farmers through a mutual agreement. To make the transaction more lucrative, land owners were offered four times the circle rates (CR) in rural areas, and twice the CR in urban parts, as purchase cost. Acquisition was only considered in cases where mutual agreement failed,” Navneet Sehgal, chief executive, UPEIDA told TOI.

To build this flagship 302 kms expressway by October 2016, the state government needs 3,368.60 hectares of land across 232 revenue villages from Agra to Lucknow and passing through districts of Mainpuri, Etawah, Kannauj, Auraiyya and Unnao. Between June 2014 and January 2015, UPEIDA completed about 27,000 registries at the rate of about 10 in a day.

To build the longest express in the country, UPEIDA paid, till May 15, 2015, Rs 2,844.55 crore to make a purchase of 2,824.16 hectares of land from individual land owners and 303.29 hectares from government departments, almost 93% of the total land it needed.

Speaking to TOI, assistant CEO UPEIDA, Ashutosh Dubey said, “The government set up rate fixation committees under the chairmanship of the district magistrate to arrive at a mutually agreeable rate. After the approval of the CEO, land owners were given four times, or twice the CR depending on the location of their land. Apart from their land holdings, owners were also compensated for permanent structures built on their land, and for unharvested crops.”

Jagdamba Singh, a resident of Matariya village who gave up his land through a mutual agreement with the state government told TOI, “My village was on the Unnao-Lucknow border, but on the Unnao side. My compensation, as a result, was paid according to the prevailing DM circle rates in Unnao. The neighbouring village that falls in Lucknow, however, received a higher compensation.”

In Etawah’s Takha tehsil, Bakridan received a compensation of  Rs 8.91 lakh for selling 2.5 bighas of land held in her name. Her son, Naseem Khan told TOI, “We used about Rs 98,000 for a wedding in the family. We are also in advanced stages of talks over the purchase of additional agriculture land with the compensation money we received.”

In some cases where the landholders did not agree to sell their lands, the government used the land acquisition process as prescribed under the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act of 2013. The rate of compensation was same, but the beneficiaries were offered an extra payment at an interest rate prescribed within the state’s rules.

“Since the state’s purchase-acquisition process started in June last year, UPEIDA now has a land pool of 3,287.73 hectares of the 3,368.60 hectares it needed; that’s 97.6% of the land it needed, organized in less than one year. The success of the Agra-Lucknow “expressway” model of acquiring land through mutual agreements and through the acquisition route has now been extended to other construction projects as well. “It is a smoother, faster process. More significantly, though, farmers and land holders get a much better deal for their land than they would if we went the acquisition way. That would have been also much more time-consuming,” said Dubey.

The expressway project has given an opportunity to Chief Minister, Akhilesh Yadav to showcase the development work in his state. With his government being under the heavy scrutiny of the media, this will evoke good press for Yadav and his government. As the expressway will reduce travel time between Delhi and Lucknow, the trade and industrial activities are expected to thrive. As the hue and cry for the land acquisition bill continues, the UP government dodged a bullet as they were successful in claiming the necessary land without any rebellion from villagers or the opposition parties.

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Then It Was Emergency Now It Is Democracy

The Emergency happened 43 years ago and both, Mrs Gandhi and the Congress, lost power because of it in 1977

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Then It Was Emergency Now It Is Democracy
Then It Was Emergency Now It Is Democracy. Pixabay

An all-out war of words broke out last week between the BJP and the Congress on the 1975 Emergency. Observing June 26 as a ‘black day’, several BJP leaders targeted the Congress at events held across the country to highlight the Emergency’s excesses. Leading the charge with a sharp attack on the Congress was Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Addressing BJP workers in Mumbai last Tuesday, the prime minster said the country still refers to June 26 as a ‘dark period during which every institution was subverted and an atmosphere of fear was created’.

Without naming the Nehru-Gandhi family, Modi said the Constitution was misused at the behest of one family. He further went on to say that the mentality of the family had not changed even now after 43 years of the Emergency. ‘Whenever the family feared loss of power, it keeps shouting that the country is in crisis,’ the prime minister added. Expectedly, the Congress hit back with equally sharp criticism of the Modi government, equating Modi to Aurangzeb. It alleged that the prime minister was even crueller than the Mughal emperor as Modi has “enslaved democracy” in the country for the past 49 months with an “undeclared emergency”.

The 21-month period from 1975 to 1977, when the then prime minister Indira Gandhi had declared Emergency, was indeed a dark chapter in India’s democratic history. This was the third national Emergency – the first one was in 1962 when China invaded India and the second was in 1971 during the war with Pakistan – and the only one to be declared citing the “internal disturbances”.  During the 1975 Emergency, opposition leaders were arrested, civil rights curbed, elections postponed, anti-government protests crushed and press censored. It shook India to its core as the freedom to liberty, dissent and express ceased to exist. All this is well-known and in public domain. Therefore, what was so special about the 43rd anniversary of Emergency that the BJP observed as ‘black day’?

Bringing back memories of the Emergency days was clearly aimed at striking at the Congress’s weak spot. It was also meant to neutralise Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s frequent ‘murder of democracy’ gibes directed at the Modi government. This was not entirely unexpected in a pre-election year; neither was the Congress’s equally sharp response by likening Modi to Aurangzeb. As 2019 general elections approach, not only the political exchange between the two parties will gather momentum, but over the next 10 months, election-driven rhetoric, name-calling, inane allegations and historical debates will increase. Reminding Congress of the Emergency is just the beginning.

Congress on Friday promised to create one crore jobs across the southern state
Congress- wikimedia commons

While terming the Emergency as an ‘aberration’, the Congress has never expressed any remorse about the dark chapter in its history or condemned it. Claiming that during Emergency, Mrs Gandhi targeted the rich, black marketers, hoarders and zamindars is no justification for curbing civil liberties and press freedom and neutralising the opposition. The hesitation to admit Emergency as a major mistake has denied the Congress an opportunity to reassert its commitment to democratic values, though it was the primary builder of democracy in India after independence.

The Emergency happened 43 years ago and both, Mrs Gandhi and the Congress, lost power because of it in 1977. Since then, the Congress has ruled at the Centre several times without resorting to emergency measures. On the contrary, it has shown its commitment to democratic order and liberal values far better than the current BJP-led government. The Emergency of 1975 and the violations of civil liberties and press freedom were all real. But its parallels can be drawn with the contemporary situation, which is marked by erosion of institutional independence and integrity, rising intolerance and increasing mob violence which stems from the ideological support of the ruling party.

The right-wing assaults on constitutional institution and individuals’ democratic rights are for real, though there is no Emergency in force in India today. While conventional opposition leaders and parties have the liberty to become more than conventional Opposition and there is also the rising wave of resistance to right-wing assaults on individual rights and institutions, it is also true that there are whiffs of Emergency sentiments in the air and the strains of the Emergency doctrine and pulsations of fear are quite obvious. The Congress is not entirely off the mark when it accuses the Modi government of ‘undeclared emergency’ as the freedom of the media, people’s freedom of expression and their right to live without fear have come under new kinds of threats.

There is no overt press censorship but the government has tried to muzzle and manipulate the media through various means. A section of the media has either caved in to the fear of administrative power or fallen for the lure of money-power. Apart from the media, there have been sustained attempts to weaken and misuse other constitutional and non-constitutional institutions, including the judiciary. Interestingly, all this is happening when the BJP is in power and questioning the Congress’s commitment to the principles and practice of democracy, while the BJP has diluted its own commitment to the philosophy of parliamentary democracy, liberal values and press freedom.

This is quite surprising because while the taint of Emergency continues to haunt the Congress, the BJP, despite its proud status of a party whose leaders were at the forefront of the struggle against the Emergency 43 years ago, is not deterred to misuse the levers of power against its political opponents, ‘difficult’ sections of the media, and independent or ‘inconvenient’ voices that question the government on various issues. With scant regard for critical debate and plurality of views under the current ruling dispensation, what we are seeing now is some kind of a role reversal. Mrs Gandhi subverted institutions to retain power. The BJP is trying to do the same by weakening the same institutions.

Also read: India sends Emergency Fuel Supplies to Sri Lanka

The Emergency should serve as a warning to political parties: threats to democracy and people’s constitutional rights – either directly or indirectly – create resentment and negative public opinion against government. The Emergency created a unity among opposition parties that never existed before and became the cause of Mrs Gandhi’s defeat. It is too early to say whether the Modi government’s attempts to misuse democratic institutions for his party’s narrow interests and the right wing attacks on institutions and rights of citizens will help create similar kind of opposition unity, which will determine the outcome of 2019 elections. (IANS)