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April 20, 2015

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Indian farmers rally against easing land bill

Tens of thousands of flag-waving farmers rallied in India’s capital yesterday to protest a government plan to ease rules for obtaining land for industry and development projects.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said existing rules, established in 2013 to protect land owners from land grabbing and forced relocation, were creating obstacles that were spooking investors. He and industrial leaders say the rules should be simplified to entice foreign business and boost manufacturing in India.

Rights activists, labor unions and many among India’s hundreds of millions of farmers say the changes effectively trample the rights of the poor. They accuse Modi of catering to corporate interests.

“With the single-minded agenda of kneeling before the corporates ... this government has shown that it simply does not care for the poor and toiling people, for our land, agriculture and nature,” the National Alliance of People’s Movements said in a statement.

The opposition Congress party, in power when the 2013 law was passed, has seized on the issue as it struggles to repair its political image following its stunning election defeat last year to Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. Both Gandhi family scion Rahul and his mother, party leader Sonia, addressed the farmers in New Delhi yesterday.

Rahul accused Modi of winning the election with funding from industrialists he now needs to pay back. “How will he pay back the loan now? He will do it by giving your lands to those top industrialists. He wants to weaken the farmers, then snatch their land and give it to his industrialist friends,” Rahul Gandhi, speaking Hindi, told more than 50,000 cheering farmers who came to the rally from all over India.

Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Modi’s order was intended to hurt farmers’ interests, and Sonia Gandhi accused the government of being against farmers.

Just an hour earlier, however, Modi pre-empted the rally by telling his party lawmakers, “Lies are being spread on the land bill by perverted minds. All decisions I am taking are for the welfare of the poor.”

Critics are upset about proposed changes eliminating the requirement of land owners’ approval for acquisitions sought for projects in defense, infrastructure, affordable housing or industrial corridors. The changes would also remove the need for assessing the social impact of such projects and restrictions on buying fertile agricultural land would be removed.


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