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Now, Cong supports farm land for industry

October 01, 2008 11:05 IST

At a conclave two years ago, Congress President Sonia Gandhi had asked party chief ministers to prevent use of 'agricultural land as far as possible for industrialisation'.

Today, as states find it impossible to keep off agricultural land in their effort to industrialise, Gandhi called for better compensation for farmers.

Speaking at a rally at Dadri in Uttar Pradesh on Tuesday, Gandhi said her party was not against land acquisition for industry.

"But farmers should be given adequate compensation. They should also be given stakes in the projects coming up on their land," she said.

At the 2006 conclave of party chief ministers, Gandhi's focus was to keep agricultural land insulated from the growth of industry.

But Tuesday's rally at Dadri-organised specifically to publicise the party's stand on the issue of land acquisition -- saw a shift in the party's stand. 

In her speech, Gandhi didn't mention that agricultural land should not be used for industry. Instead, she set a different priority: The party should strive to ensure that farmers get adequate compensation.

Significantly, the Congress fielded Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda as its poster boy. Hooda explained in detail to UP farmers the Haryana government's compensation policy.

According to Hooda, the state is offering Rs 80 lakh (Rs 8 million) to farmers for rich agricultural lands in prime areas of the state.

"Just two days ago, we announced this new rate," he said. "We have fixed a floor rate of Rs 21 lakh (Rs 2.1 million) for agricultural land. And if it's arid land, the floor rate is Rs 12 lakh (Rs 1.2 million).

The package includes farmers' long-term participation. If his land is taken for construction of roads or canals, then for next 33 years, the land-owner will get Rs 15,000 per year for every acre of his land."

As Haryana is one of the special economic zone hubs of India, the Hooda government has come up with a richer package in cases land is acquired for these tax-free zones.

"If a farmer gives land for an SEZ, then apart from the price of the land, he will receive Rs 30,000 every year for each acre of his land. This payment will continue for 33 years. There are also provisions to provide jobs for the locals," he said.

It's not that Gandhi and her managers have suddenly geared up to address the need of industry. The political leadership of the party has, in fact, gauged the mood of the masses well and is fine-tuning its policies accordingly. In Dadri, where a number of industrial projects are in the pipeline, the mood is not against selling land to industries.

As Rajpal Singh, a local farmer explained before the rally: "We are not averse to selling our land. But we want market rates. Here the problem is that the UP government is buying land at very low rates (Rs seven lakh per acre) and then giving it to industries at higher rates. The private parties should directly negotiate with us."

Gandhi, too, tried to address this mood and said: "Because of our struggle, farmers are getting better compensation. But that's not enough. The present state government should give proper compensation like the Haryana government."

She referred to the recent problems in Singur and tried to make it clear that her party favoured industries.

"In UP, the state is acquiring land in improper ways. There is corruption. Even in other parts of the country, there are reports of exploitation of farmers. Our government wants to amend the age-old Land Acquistion Act to enable farmers get a better deal. I hope all parties allow it to get passed," she said in her speech at a local college ground in Dadri.


Saubhadra Chatterji in Dadri