No forcible eviction from farmland for SEZs: Minister

By Faraz Ahmad


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New Delhi : Displacement of people from land sought for special economic zones (SEZs) will be purely voluntary and no forcible land acquisition will be made, Rural Development Minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh has assured.

Singh, whose ministry has a draft rehabilitation package ready for people who are displaced from their farmland to make way for SEZs, also assured that the compensation in such cases would be attractive and offered before acquisition.

"Even if the rehabilitation package is attractive, it fails to serve its purpose when the people start agitating and hold demonstrations," Singh, who personally fashioned the finer points of the package, told IANS in an exclusive interview.

"The policy seeks to end forcible acquisition of farmers' land. And in the case of agreed acquisition, the rehabilitation package will be awarded to affected people before displacement," added Singh, who has a doctorate in mathematics.

"The displacement should take place only when it is absolutely necessary and fully voluntary."

Piloted by the rural development ministry, the government proposes to enact a new law – Resettlement and Rehabilitation Act – and the relevant bill is being examined by the law ministry.

The government also proposes to amend the Land Acquisition Act to give the new law an overriding effect over the Land Acquisition Act and the Special Economic Zone Act.

The concept of SEZ, seen as a prime mover of the Indian economy, came under criticism after farmers opposed forced land acquisitions for such projects at many places across the country, especially in Nandigram in West Bengal where 14 people were killed in police action against protestors March 14.

In the freewheeling interview, Singh, 61, who represents the Vaishali constituency of Bihar in the Lok Sabha, said that his party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), had started preparations to expand its base beyond its pocket borough in Bihar and Jharkhand with a nationwide ambition.

He said his party had won seats in the Manipur assembly and also has a presence in Maharashtra and West Bengal. "People in other states look up to the RJD. But so far we have ignored their aspirations," he said.

"The whole purpose was that the party should grow in strength all over the country. Only then we will be able to fight the communal forces," Singh said and added that the party was formed to empower minorities and the socially weak.

Singh also sought to play down criticism against his party chief and Railway Minister Lalu Prasad that he was ignoring his home state Bihar and spending too much time in New Delhi only to nurse his aspirations to become prime minister.

Even the decision to hold the national executive meeting of the party in the capital last week did not go down well with the cadre.

"All kinds of people keep making all kinds of speculations. This has nothing to do with any of that. What's wrong with holding it in Delhi? It is well connected to every corner of the country," Singh asserted.

"People from all over the country were coming for the national executive meet. So holding it in Delhi facilitated their travel. But the national convention will be held in Sarnath on Aug 25."

The rural development minister also justified his party's total endorsement of every action taken by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and said everything was being done as per the national common minimum programme.

"We don't want to do anything that could weaken this alliance and strengthen the communal forces. We neither want to nor will do anything that would encourage communal forces."

(Faraz Ahmad can be contacted at [email protected])