Opposition to Land ordinance largely opportunistic
Given how salaries and wages in urban India are so much higher and how agriculture yields are stagnating, it is not surprising that urban India added more people than rural India did over the last decade—according to an NCAER analysis, India’s top 20 cities account for 10% of the country’s population, 20% of expenditure, 30% of income and 60% of surplus income. Which is why, from around a fourth in 1991, a third of Indians now live in cities, and this is projected to rise to 40% by 2030. In other words, the population of urban India is set to rise almost three-fourths over the next two decades. If 300 million Indians are going to move to urban areas over the next two decades, to use a McKinsey number, this means India needs to build 700-900 million square metres of commercial and residential space each year or two new Mumbais each year. Given this reality, the question is how we are going to tackle this. By creating new cities the way the Narendra Modi government is planning, or by doing nothing? Doing nothing doesn’t mean the mass migration will stop, it just means India’s rural population will move into large urban slums like Dharavi in Mumbai. Just to cite some numbers from the High Powered Expert Committee on urban infrastructure—set up by the UPA—4,861 of India’s 5,161 cities/towns don’t even have a partial sewerage network and less than a fifth of the road network in these cities is covered by storm-water drains.
This is what the government needs to highlight, given the opposition it is facing in getting its changes in the UPA’s land acquisition Act passed. Indeed, even the RSS is supposed to have added to the choir of opposition, all needless to say, in the name of the farmer who, there is enough data to show, is increasingly less dependent upon agriculture anyway. Both prime minister Modi and finance minister Arun Jaitley need to ask Opposition parties where they want 300 million Indians to live, and in what conditions?
Also, if the Opposition wants a truly federal governance structure, shouldn’t it respect the fact that most states have a problem with the UPA’s Land Act? When former rural development minister Nitin Gadkari called a meeting of states on the matter, most states, including Congress-ruled ones, vociferously opposed the law. Karnataka and Kerala wanted social impact assessment to be done only for large projects. Though not a Congress state, Tamil Nadu said the definition of what was to be ‘public purpose’ was to be defined by the states; Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Chhattisgarh wanted the description of what are called ‘affected parties’—who need to be covered by the elaborate rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) policies—to be whittled down; UP has said the R&R requirements have to go for land bought by private firms. If despite this, the NDA’s changes are not passed, it shows just how cynical India’s political class is.