March 29, 2015

We support progressive legislation, not the Land Bill which is draconian

Friends are asking if the Trinamool Congress is both batting and bowling in the same innings of the match in Parliament. Why did we support the Mines and Minerals Bill in Parliament, but strongly oppose the Land Acquisition Bill that seeks to amend the Act of 2013. Actually, we have been consistent. When a law is progressive and states-friendly, we will back it, irrespective of whether the law is framed by a BJP government or a Congress government.

In the case of the Mines and Minerals Bill, we were satisfied that suggestions made by Trinamool in the select committee were incorporated in the final draft. There were several parameters Trinamool used to judge the Bill.

First, local communities were invited as partners in development. Trinamool urged the government to facilitate the setting up of a District Mineral Foundation by state governments. This Foundation would incorporate tribal communities in the mining region and undo their sense of alienation and exploitation. The onus of the composition of the Foundation has been left to the state government. States have also been empowered to set up special courts for quick settlement for mining disputes.

Second, mining makes for windfall gains. It is important to retain these in the country, the state and the community. Here again the Trinamool government’s experience in West Bengal has proved a great learning. Using e-governance we have increased revenues by 87 per cent in the past three years. As such, we welcome the concept of e-auctions.

Of course, there is more that needs to be done. We have recommended that the rules that will complement the Bill should put in place a modern regulatory process for environmentally-friendly mining. We cannot repeat the mistakes of China. The need to bring in scientific and best-in-class technology practices and procedures for mining, using the mechanism of the National Mineral Exploration Trust, is also critical.

It is for these reasons that we supported the Mines and Minerals Bill. The amendments to the Land Acquisition Act are another matter. They make a bad act worse. Trinamool had steadfastly opposed the UPA’s land acquisition law. Now the NDA, by rushing through with an ordinance and refusing to let Parliament deliberate, debate and decide before such trigger-happy action, is making things that much more difficult for farmers and actual users and owners of the land.

The UPA law institutionalised rent-seeking – in the form of giving a blanket mandate, for change of land-use to government authorities. This one completely chips away at the farmer’s ability to make an informed and voluntary choice. The NDA government’s ordinance on the land acquisition law – now set to be re-issued after flagrantly ignoring the sentiments of Parliament and suddenly and unconscionably proroguing the Rajya Sabha – is draconian. It virtually legitimises forcible acquisition of land.

Trinamool will oppose this with all its might.

Derek O’Brien
Member of Parliament from Bengal
Trinamool Congress Parliamentary Party Leader (Rajya Sabha) & Chief National Spokesperson

March 08, 2015

Banning beef goes beyond religious connotations

When I mentioned it to him, a well-meaning political friend urged me not to touch the subject or write about it. “Beef is a sensitive issue,” he said, “it has religious connotations. And you are a Christian…”

I thought about it but decided to go ahead anyway. The manner in which the BJP-led government in Maharashtra has banned the cutting, eating and very possession of beef is disturbing. And to me, it is not a religious issue but a broader social and economic one – linked to the liberalism that is the bedrock of our Constitution.

Beef is a cheap meat. It is often called the “poor man's protein”. In Maharashtra it is eaten by Muslims and Christians, and by some Dalit communities that do not belong to religious minorities. As a magnet for economic migrants from across India, the Mumbai-Pune region is also home to many from the Northeast who consume beef.

By banning beef in such a draconian and absolutist fashion, the state government will only drive up prices of other meats. This will have an inflationary impact and will raise household food bills. It will affect livelihoods of traders and butchers who deal with bovine meat.

The decision is impulsive and political and has not considered the impact on agriculture and on the Maharashtra farmer. There are long-standing agrarian problems in the state. One of these is a whopping 61 per cent shortage in fodder, if one compares fodder required for livestock, largely cows and buffaloes, against what is available. With the ban, this fodder shortage will worsen. It will push up input costs for farmers.

Lastly, there is my concern about perceptions and inclusiveness. India is a ‘live and let live’ society. Beef is forbidden among most Hindus and the cow is held sacred. I respect that and am certainly not asking for beef to be served at state banquets or in the Parliament canteen. But to ban its use and consumption even in the privacy of a citizen’s home and kitchen?

It strikes me as odd that I can walk into a supermarket in Dubai – which is not a democracy and not a model for Indian society – enter a sub-section of the meats area and buy pork, which is forbidden in Islam. I have seen simple signs outside such demarcated areas that say: “Pork and pork products: For non-Muslims only”.

Can we not imagine something similar for beef in India? Do bans like this serve any purpose other than simply putting off some people – and contravening the spirit of the Constitution, as the BJP-led government in Mumbai is doing, even without amending it? The pursuit of an agenda of religious divisiveness does not start with grand pronouncements. It starts with relatively small events like these.

That is why I decided to write this piece. I plan to iterate its contents this week in the Rajya Sabha. I hope the Chairman gives me permission.

Derek O’Brien
Member of Parliament
Leader in the Rajya Sabha and National Spokesperson, All India Trinamool Congress