Land and politics is intertwined and it is extremely onerous to separate the two from each other. Politics is very much integral to land in terms of not only who owns or controls it, and who appropriates resources over land. Land is also an asset or a natural resource that has been incessantly used by the state on the pretext of development, protecting the masses, using it for public purpose, preventing its misuse or protecting the rule of law.
The trajectory for expropriating land by the state began as early in the Nehruvian era when land was being acquired for development purposes. India embarked on the goal of achieving self-reliance by building dams, heavy industries, steel and power plants. This resulted in mass displacement of native, indigenous and tribal communities without adequate rehabilitation and compensation measures. However, the action of the state was justified in the name of serving larger interest of the society and for leading the nation towards ‘Atmanirbharta’. The Hirakud dam project (1946-57) led to displacement of 1lakh people and submerged 325 villages (291 in Odisha and 34 villages in undivided Madhya Pradesh) that accounted for 1,83,000 acres of land, including 1,23,000 acres of cultivated land. After six decades, several displaced communities still await for rehabilitation and compensation. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) took cognizance of the issue and questioned the action by the Odisha government to banish the rights of the displaced communities by asking them to produce evidence for homestead land. The commission noted that “its quite impossible to show documentary proof after 65 years of displacement…neither the government has all the records of displacement, nor any survey has been undertaken on the issue”.
The latest instance of demonstration of power politics over land has been the use of bulldozer governance across the states including Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh. This was used as a symbol of divisive and schismatic demonstration of power against the most vulnerable sections of the society. Bulldozer has been used as a weapon to severe punishment against a targeted community. The vindictive action by the state raises pertinent concerns regarding the due process. In the Jahangirpuri demolition drive, North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) actions were in abeyance with the direction of the Supreme Court that had ordered a status quo on the demolition drive. Similar action was taken by the Madhya Pradesh government that used bulldozers to severe action against those responsible for Ram Navami violence. Bulldozers didn’t even spare a house built under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY). This clearly defied the welfarist position of the state and acted at the behest of following the rule of law. It was just at a day’s notice that the house of Md. Javed, who was accused of brutalising violence on June 10 was reduced to rubble without following the due process. This was clearly in violation of Section 27(1) of the Urban Planning and Development Act, 1973 act which says that a 15 days’ prior notice should be given. Uttar Pradesh government also justified its actions that demolitions are being carried out to check the unauthorised constructions and are in accordance with the rule of law. The action by the state explicitly demonstrates its use of power against religious minorities. It was a classic instance of exhibiting that those who are in power carry out demolitions without following the due process. Such injudicious action by the state contravenes with Article 21 of the Constitution that says, “No person shall be deprived of his life and personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law”.
A common thread in both the instances reveal that land has been used as an instrument by the state to exemplify its power against those who are vulnerable and downtrodden sections of the society. While the formal explicitly shows the lackadaisical approach on the part of the state to protect the interests of the indigenous communities on land and the latter speaks of its high handedness and majoritarianism to manoeuvre law to justify its actions. Such actions by the state explicitly demonstrates the nature of state and its authority to legitimise its authority without any sort of impunity. It certainly forgoes the basic principle that those who are at the helm of power derives its authority from the people of India and no action by the state can violate rule of law and fundamental rights of citizens as guaranteed by our Constitution.