1. Speaking in the Constituent Assembly on November 25, 1949 Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the chief architect of the Constitution of India made one of the most incisive remarks on it:
“On the 26th of January 1950, India would be a democratic country in the sense that India from that day would have a government of the people, by the people and for the people. The same thought comes to my mind. What would happen to her democratic Constitution? Will she be able to maintain it or will she lose it again? This is the second thought that comes to my mind and makes me as anxious as the first…
…On the 26th of January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognizing the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which this Assembly has so laboriously built up.”
What would have been Dr. Ambedkar’s reaction to the facts of this case? This is one of the thoughts in our mind while dealing with the case.
2. Since independence India has indeed covered a long way on the path of development and economic growth. It continues to take long strides on that path. But how far have we been able to live down the fears expressed by Dr. Ambedkar about our democratic Constitution? How far have we been able to get rid of the contradictions in our life? This case raises these difficult questions.
3. We are anxious that India should develop and grow fast and become strong to take its rightful place in the comity of nations.
4. Development is reckoned in terms of investments in urban infrastructure, roads and highways, communication, technology, extraction and commercial exploitation of minerals, generation of power, production of steel and other essential metals and alloys. Creation of wealth is of utmost importance. Redemption lies in GDP (Gross Domestic product).
5. India does not lack material resources required for development. There are vast treasures of minerals lying buried deep inside its earth. But excavation of minerals from the bosom of the earth and putting them to good industrial and commercial use require lots of initial investment and highly advanced technology. Those too are now available as blessings of globalization. The imperialist’s formula of “philanthropy plus five percent” is the accepted norm. Public-Private Partnership (PPP) is the latest mantra. For some reasonable profits, companies and corporations, both Indian and multinational are willing and ready not only to do the mining for us but also to undertake the development of the region by providing schools, hospitals, and many similar amenities and facilities to the local population. Even the public sector undertakings are not lagging far behind in the race.
6. But there is one catch. There is also the involvement of the human factor. Most of the mineral wealth of India is not under uninhabited wasteland. It lies mostly under dense forests and areas inhabited by people who can claim to be the oldest dwellers of this ancient country. Any large scale mining, therefore, needs not only huge investments and application of highly developed technology but also en masse relocation of the people dwelling upon the land that needs to be mined or at any rate getting the land freed from its inhabitants, for whom it may be the only source of sustenance. But then we have the laws to handle such situations. There is the Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulation), Act 1957, the Indian Forest Act, 1927, the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, (in many States) laws restricting and regulating trade in forest produce and above all the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 and its clone the Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Act, 1957 that envisage compulsory acquisition of land by the government for any public purpose on payment of its market value (plus solatium for the compulsory nature of acquisition!) to the land holder. The law is based on the twin sound principles of the eminent domain of the sovereign and the largest good of the largest number.
7. Seen thus, the whole issue of development appears to be so simple, logical and commonsensical. And yet, to millions of Indians, development is a dreadful and hateful word that is aimed at denying them even the source of their sustenance. It is cynically said that on the path of ‘maldevelopment’ almost every step that we take seems to give rise to insurgency and political extremism (which along with terrorism are supposed to be the three gravest threats to India’s integrity and sovereignty).
8. The resistance with which the state’s well meaning efforts at development and economic growth are met makes one to think about the reasons for such opposition to the state’s endeavours for development. Why is the state’s perception and vision of development at such great odds with the people it purports to develop? And why are their rights so dispensable? Why do India’s GDP and HDI (Human Development Index, which is broadly used as measure of life expectancy, adult literacy and standard of living) present such vastly different pictures? With the GDP of $ 1.16Trillion (for 2008) Indian economy is twelfth largest in US Dollar terms and it is the second fastest growing economy in the world. But according to the Human Development Report 2009 (published by UNDP), the HDI for India is 0.612 (for 2007) which puts it at the 134th place among 182 countries. India has maintained the same HDI and rank since the previous year, and it continues to be categorized under “Medium Human Development”.
9. The counter argument goes like this. It is very often the process of development that most starkly confirms the fears expressed by Dr. Ambedkar about our democracy. A blinkered vision of development, complete apathy towards those who are highly adversely affected by the development process and a cynical unconcern for the enforcement of the laws lead to a situation where the rights and benefits promised and guaranteed under the constitution hardly ever reach the most marginalized citizens.
10. This is not to say that the relevant laws are perfect and very sympathetic towards the dispossessed. There are various studies that detail the impact of dispossession from their lands on tribal people. It is pointed out that even when laws relating to land acquisition and resettlement are implemented perfectly and comprehensively (and that happens rarely!), uncomfortable questions remain. For a people whose lives and livelihoods are intrinsically connected to the land, the economic and cultural shift to a market economy can be traumatic.
11. On many occasions laws are implemented only partially. The scheme of land acquisition often comes with assurances of schools, hospitals, roads, and employment. The initial promises, however, mostly remain illusory. The aims of income restoration and house resettlement prove to be very difficult. Noncompliance with even the basic regulations causes serious health problems for the local population and contamination of soil and water.
12. But there is yet another far worse scenario where even the most basic obligation under the law is not complied with and even the fig leaf of legality is dispensed with.
13. The case in question is a textbook example.
14. But before going into the facts of the case two other things need to be stated. This case comes from Orissa which is one of the seven states where a particularly violent group of political extremists, has been able to gain sufficient strength to pose a threat to Constitutional governance of the state. This group openly defies the democratic system of the country and is committed to overthrow the Constitution by brutal and murderous means. According to news paper reports, in the district of Sundergarh, where the acquired lands are situated, the extremist group looted 550 kilograms of explosives in April 2003 and in August 2009 blew up a railway station.
15. The other fact is that this is not an isolated case. We have come across many such cases of land acquisition.It was in this background that the Supreme Court required the Government to address with immediate concern the unpaid compensation to those displaced due to the acquisition of land in the State of Orissa who had been denied of the same due to the intense and prolonged legal battles between a mining company and the Government. One can only hope that this would serve as a reminder to the Government that all that is plans in the comfortable offices does not so reflect the true state of those in the rear and inaccessible parts of the country and to provide for them in the true sense.