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Jitters after Munda fiat

Ranchi, July 10: Chief minister Arjun Munda’s announcement yesterday that private investors would not be allowed to directly purchase land and acquisition would be carried out by the state government instead has been welcomed by tribal groups but denounced by corporates.

Terming an August 2010 circular allowing private investors to purchase land on their own as “wrong”, the chief minister said the decision taken during President’s Rule went against the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, the Chotanagpur Tenancy and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Acts, which were in effect in the state.

Munda’s announcement also put him on the same page with his bÍte noire Babulal Marandi.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Marandi said he had been crying himself hoarse that allowing industrialists to purchase land directly would ruin the state. “We will be left with little agricultural land if the industrialists are given a free run,” he said.

He added that the big industrial groups left the land buying process to brokers who exploited landowners. The former chief minister said the state government should now identify and acquire only fallow land.

Meanwhile, sources close to Munda said the basic aim of the proposed policy was to safeguard the interest of landholders and also force corporate houses to use land for the purpose it was acquired.

“When private investors buy land on their own, they are not bound to discharge their corporate social responsibility. But if the government acquires land for them, the firms cannot ignore that aspect. The government also has the power to take back land if investors fail to use it for industry,” said an official in the chief minister’s office, adding in the same breath that the move was not anti-industry.

Significantly, Munda’s stand on the role of the government in land acquisition is in tune with the proposal of the National Advisory Council (NAC) headed by Sonia Gandhi.

The NAC proposal prohibits private sector from purchasing land directly from farmers, in case it entails displacement of more than 400 families. However, the government of India differed with the NAC on the issue, which states that a private company willing to set up industry must buy 70 per cent of the land itself. The state government will acquire 30 per cent of the land for the investor, that too only if there are problems of contiguity. A bill in this regard is likely to be placed in the forthcoming Monsoon session of Parliament.

The reaction from the tribal community has been one of cautious optimism.

Tribal leaders who have been fighting against land acquisition in scheduled areas for mining and industries, said Munda should now walk the talk and ensure that no private companies buy land from owners in scheduled areas anymore.

“I thank the chief minister. Finally, sense has prevailed upon him. May God give him wisdom to serve the interest of tribals in the state,” said president of Jharkhand Disom Party Salkhan Murmu. He added that other rights of tribals should be protected as well, or else the chief minister’s gesture would ring hollow.

“The direct indication of Munda’s statement is that the state government will now acquire land required for industrial groups,” said Stan Swamy, a member of Jharkhand Bachao Andolan.

“In fact, all the land acquisition or memorandums of understanding for industries that have taken place so far are illegal as none of them were cleared by the Tribal Advisory Council,” he argued.

According to him, every important matter that concerns scheduled areas like setting up industries and land acquisition should be placed before the Tribal Advisory Council.

A few tribal leaders were of the opinion that Munda’s statement was more political than real as he was trying to woo the tribal vote bank after the BJP’s humiliating loss in the Jamshedpur Lok Sabha by-election.

Yet others pointed out the flaws in the proposal. Jayant Jaipal Singh, who has been associated with various corporate houses, said Munda’s statement would confuse industrialists.

He said the policy of allowing private investors to purchase 70 per cent of the required land and leaving the state to acquire the rest 30 per cent was a sound one. “Also, the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act does not allow a private investor to purchase land without the approval of the deputy commissioner. So, the government plays a role in private purchases as well,” he said.

He added that the chief minister had not specified whether the proposed policy would apply only to mega investors or small and medium players too.

Former secretary general of FJCCI Vikash Singh also said Munda’s stance was confusing for industrial houses. “The new stand will not take the state anywhere,” he maintained.

The decision taken during President’s Rule favoured direct purchase of land by prospective investors like ArcelorMittal, Tata Steel, Jindal Steel & Power Limited (JSPL), JSW Steels and Essar, among others, who had signed MoUs with the state government between 2003 and 2006 but had so far failed to get land for their projects.

Around two dozen of the 55 companies which have signed MoUs with the government are working on setting up plants in scheduled areas. The districts of Ranchi, Lohardaga, Gumla, Simdega, Latehar, East Singhbhum, West Singhbhum, Seraikela-Kharsawan, Sahibganj, Dumka, Pakur, Jamtara and parts of Garhwa, Palamau and Godda are scheduled areas.

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