Stop victimizing Gujarat farmers in the name of providing mining rights to corporate interests

agriBy Sagar Rabari*

The Gujarat government should be restrained from victimizing farmers repeatedly under pretext of development and ease of doing business.

The latest example of such victimization of farmers are in the proposed draft rules of “The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 (67 of 1957)” in which the Government of Gujarat (GoG) has made serious provisions that may jeopardize agriculture and farmers’ interest.

In these draft rules, GoG has proposed to force the farmer to pay money to save his/her own agriculture land, which is given to some businessman/corporate without his/her consent! How bizarre this is? Why the farmer should pay for where he/she doesn’t want to part with the land but continue his/her agriculture?

Some other bizarre draft provisions are as under:

In clause 4, about reservation of area for purposes of conservation: Nothing has been said about private land or commons. If the government reserves the area, under which law and how the land would be acquired is not clear. If the land so reserved is commons then what will be the procedure to compensate the affected people is also not clear!

The reservation of areas and grant to government companies, corporations or a joint venture is mentioned. But what about, if farmers/tribals or general residents of such areas want to mine the minerals individually or by founding producers’ company or a co-operative? How will GoG treat them? Will they be given priority or any concessions to promote decentralized, collective development? The draft rules are silent on this important issue, and this is dangerous sign for common masses.

In clause 6 Grant of quarry lease: GoG’s ownership itself is a disputed matter, how a grazing land, either it is demarcated or not but used as a grazing land can belong to GoG? And how can the land used by local communities to fulfill their petty needs or migratory routes of Maldhari community be vested with GoG? It is a question which is not settled yet, how can the government claim its land?

About scheduled area, who will decide it, or will it follow the list under the Forest Rights Act, 2006, under which already a schedule area list is declared? It is not clear. The confusion must be cleared.

Clause 6, sub clause (3) (d)  is dangerous. The ill practices and the rampant corruption have shown umpteen times that, to avoid attention from the concerned people, advertisements are given in distant districts’ small newspapers! The well thought out provision of obtaining environment clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has been jeopardized many times only because the would-be affected people did not know well in advance because the notification was published in other district or in a distance edition, hence people could not study the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) and respond accordingly! Same may happen here, too, to sideline local community and benefit corporates close to the ruling party or the officers concerned! This will increase chances for corruption.

In clause 9 – Auction Process: No priority or any concession has been given to the land owners or a community, or a farmers’ co-operative or producers’ company. Nothing is cited about scheduled areas, the same process will apply there or any concessions will be given to them is not clear.

Clause 15 – Period of the quarry lease: Nothing has been said about the land owner in case of renewal or extension of lease, how the original land owner/dependants will be benefitted?

In clause 17 – Restriction on maximum area: While restricting the holding from 50 hectares (ha) to 500 ha to different categories, powers given to government to make an exception – this will benefit big corporates make excuses of necessity for development! It will also increase corruption in bureaucracy, and precious minerals would be cornered by big corporates to monopolize the business.

Why this exception?

Chapter III Clause 20: This is a most disastrous provision. To give free hand over water bodies, streams etc. to the lessee will become disastrous for downstream habitations and livestock rearers. The water would be diverted or polluted and no restrictions have been made here, nor is there any provision for strictest possible punishment in diverting or polluting valuable water resources in Gujarat, where water resources are very scarce. This cannot be tolerated by any community downstream; this provision may lead to confrontation with the state, may disturb mining activities.

In clause 21 (a):  Among others, educational buildings are not mentioned near whom mining activities should not be allowed; it may provide a loophole to the lessee and may disturb educational activities. It must be mentioned there. We have seen in Porbandar district in Mocha village where mining activities were going on within 200 meters from school building. This can become dangerous.

No mining operations in areas are roads, highways and railways, canals, water bodies, where no mining activity can take place, but farm wells or tube wells are not mentioned. It may destroy water tables in the vicinity and ruin agriculture, already reeling under severe distress. The agricultural economy must be preserved from mining activity.

To allow inspection by Government, no punitive actions are mentioned on failure for the inspecting officers, which is a cause of corruption; the draft rules also continues to provide a free hand to officers for corrupt practices.

Precautions for protection of environment and control of pollution: This clause is informative only, but silent on the punitive actions to be taken if precautions are not taken or environment is damaged due to negligence.

There must be strictest possible provisions to preserve the environment and minimize the damages, otherwise it will ruin our collective future.

The Clause 22, on liberties, rights, powers, privileges and obligations of the Government acquisition of land of third parties and compensation thereof, says, “If after the receipt of an offer of compensation for any damage which is likely to arise from the proposed operation of the lessee, the occupier of the surface or any part of the said lands refuses his consent to the exercise of the rights and powers reserved to the Government and granted by the quarry lease, the lessee shall report the matter to the Government and shall deposit with it the amount offered as compensation, and if the Government is satisfied that the amount of compensation is reasonable or if it is not so satisfied and the lessee shall have deposited with it such further amount as the Government may consider reasonable, the Government shall order the occupier to allow the lessee to enter upon the said land and carry out such operations as may be necessary for the purpose of the quarry lease. In assessing the amount of such compensation the Government shall be guided by the principles of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation & Resettlement Act, 2013.”

What a draconian provision is this! The GoG will act on behalf of the lease holder and deprive the farmers or the private land holders from their right just to serve the business community! Can GoG take sides and preserve the interests of business community at the cost of farmers or the private owner of that piece of land? Is it public interest? Is it national interest? Is it for national security? And for what and whose development?

This provision must be removed from the draft rules, otherwise it may become a tool to terrorize the agrarian community and tribals of the state!

Removal from minerals agricultural lands: Why the farmer cannot sell mineral from his/her agriculture land in the market? Why no special concession to land owners?

According to the Kerala High Court judgment, in which the High Court had ruled that all the property lying under or above the farm land belongs to the owner, not to the Government. Why GoG does not apply the same judgment to its own people here?

We would also like to suggest that the following issues have not been addressed in this draft. They need to be addressed otherwise it may create more problems than the solution for what this draft is prepared.

We request the Gujarat Government to into the following issues regarding the proposed rules.

  • Local people, communities must be taken into confidence before any demarcation or at least at the time of demarcation.
  • Gram Sabha’s consent in scheduled areas is mentioned but nothing has been said about Environmental Clearance (EC) from the MoEF. Why? Is there no need once the lease is granted by GOG?
  • What about alternate afforestation? Why is the government quiet? Will the CAMPA-2016 be made applicable here or not?
  • Before demarcation of mining area, water tables and available water sources within such area should be demarcated to sustain agriculture and local economy. Mining activities alter the water table, and such damage to water must be avoided in a water deficit state like Gujarat.
  • The Act and the rules are silent on the ownership of commons or private land after lease tenure is over and fully restored.
  • It is not clear why the GoG needs to intervene in what is essentially a transaction between two private parties in case of non-agreement by the private land owner.

*Secretary, Khedut Samaj – Gujarat

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