By Ranjan Panda*
BJP has just made a ‘scathing attack’ on the land scam in which Robert Vadra is allegedly involved. But is it really such a big khulasa? Robert Vadra’s land scams were first exposed by the very activists whom both BJP and Congress governments term ‘anti-development’ whenever they expose such scams.
The BJP, which apparently had the same information, kept quiet about it for well over a year before the AAP chose to go public with it. But the party has now started pretending as if it had unearthed something on its own. Uma Bharti – the U-turn specialist on Narendra Modi – has been claiming that she would see to it that Vadra is arrested for these scams if she (meaning BJP) comes to power. Sunday’s big khulasa in the form of a video and a print document did nothing more than add to the BJP’s already lavish election campaign budget, something that has set an all-time record in the history of Indian elections and is perhaps a huge scam in itself.
Land scams such as this have been a character of India’s ruling class and each mainstream political party has patronised such scams to benefit the rich and powerful at the cost of the poor and the ecology. Subsidies to industrialists and mining corporations in terms of land, forests, water and lives of poor people has been the other name of ‘development’.
Gujarat, under previous governments, as well as under Modi, has always been a land of scams. Despite Adani’s press statement in defence of Modi, everyone knows that land given to Adani at throwaway prices in Gujarat constitutes a huge scam. BJP alleges that the Rajasthan government, where the Robert Vadra scam has been supposedly discovered by them, has bent rules to favour the land transfers. Has Gujarat government followed rules in handing over land to industrialists? Let us first look at the Adani case.
An article in the Forbes recently said, “Adani has, over the years, leased 7,350 hectares –much of which he got from 2005 onward – from the government in an area called Mundra in the Gulf of Kutch in Gujarat. FORBES ASIA has copies of the agreements that show he got the 30-year, renewable leases for as little as one U.S. cent a square meter (the rate maxed out at 45 cents a square meter). He in turn has sublet this land to other companies, including state-owned Indian Oil Co., for as much as $11 a square meter. Between 2005 and 2007, at least 1,200 hectares of grazing land was taken away from villagers”.
Grazing land can only be given for other purposes if they are in excess and if the local Panchayats give permission. This article mentioned, “Villagers in Adani’s SEZ say their grazing land was signed away by earlier village chiefs without their knowledge. They have filed multiple cases in the Gujarat High Court to contest the government’s actions, going back to 2005 and even earlier. Several cases are still pending”. Adani’s cash cow – the country’s largest private port by volume – as well as the 4,620-megawatt coal-fired power plant thus was built on this illegally acquired cheap land.
Just demarcate useful land as wasteland and give them away to industries; it won’t qualify to be a scam. That has been the trick the Modi government has used to gift away land to its acolytes. We are studying climate finance projects and the issue is same there. Records have to be prepared by consultants in a way that land used for sustenance and common purposes are termed ‘unproductive’ to make it easy for land sharks to acquire them.
Now let’s consider the Nirma case in the same Gujarat. In Bhavnagar’s Mahuva taluka, about 14000 farmers are fighting a land scam by the Modi government since 2008 as the government has allotted 268 hectares of land in this taluka to Nirma – the giant detergent manufacturer – to build a cement plant worth Rs 1, 000 crore, a coal-fired power plant and a coke plant. This project has been allowed to take away land by the side of the Samadhiyala water reservoir and the wetland ecosystem in its catchment area. Then, another 3,429 hectares of land from nine villages was approved as a limestone mining area for the cement factory.
A report in the website scroll.in points out that, “Situated on the western coast of Gujarat’s Saurashtra region, the villages around Mahuva were not always as green as they are today. Farmers here grow what they eat and often have enough to sell in the market to supplement their incomes. Even as jowar and bajra lusciously sway in the April heat, the ground is covered by tiny green plants bearing peanuts under the earth”. This report further notes, “The Samadhiyala reservoir, completed in 2000, has transformed the lives of the region’s farmers,” said Khimjibhai Bariya, who was among the villages who filed a case in the Gujarat High Court in 2009 opposing the construction of the Nirma cement plant.
In fact, the illegal acquisition of the wetland by Nirma that took place in connivance with the Modi government was exposed legally in 2011 when the union environment ministry revoked the clearance it had granted to the Nirma cement plant. The Ministry’s expert appraisal committee recommended the revocation, saying the clearance was granted based on undisclosed and incorrect information.
Gujarat government’s falsehood was exposed when it was revealed that the environment impact assessment (EIA) report submitted to the ministry had provided wrong information about the category of land. It had taken the permission showing a wetland as a wasteland.
Well, this is a common happening in India and Narendra Modi or the Gujarat government is by no means the only culprit. Put your hands on any clearance given and land acquisition made and you would unearth huge scams benefitting the rich at the cost of the poor and the ecology. Vadra’s scam was not unknown to the current BJP government in Rajasthan either.
However, they have not yet ordered any inquiry or taken any action. And I am sure the so called BIG EXPOSE that BJP made was nothing but an election gimmick and would be given a quiet burial once the dust settles in.
We would, in all likelihood, see Uma Bharti taking another U-turn and BJP conveniently forgetting the issue. The political class can’t antagonise their corporate sponsors. It is said Vadra shares a very close relationship with the Adani group.
There is no prize in guessing why BJP would not continue this aggressive campaign against Vadra post elections. Nor will the BJP go ahead exposing the ‘get rich quick formula’ of Vadra anymore because such persons are aplenty in their own party. They don’t have to go anywhere fishing for proofs, just a peep into the affidavits of the candidates they (or for that matter any big political party) have fielded in the election would tell them that many of them know this formula very well.
The fact remains that the fate of common people and the ecology would continue to be doomed under any corrupt government that comes to power. The Vadras and Modis would never be punished but the small fries will continue to be the sacrificial goats.
* Ranjan Panda known the Waterman of Odisha is an activist and social commentator based in Sambalpur. He may be conatcted at [email protected]