Edit & Opinion

Fight for space: Industry-Agriculture clash

The Tamil Nadu Government has cancelled the notification issued on constituting a Petroleum, Chemical and Petro-Chemical Investment Region (PCPIR) encompassing 45 villages in two districts in Cauvery Delta Region in response to “lot of objections” from the public. Known as “the rice bowl of the State”, this region covers much of the Cauvery basin districts. It is a typical instance of industry-agriculture clash for space – an unavoidable confrontation in predominantly agricultural countries wanting to develop industries. The notification which applies to about 22,939 hectares of land follows the adoption of a Bill in the State Assembly.

The TN Protected Agricultural Zone Development Bill passed by the State Assembly bans setting up of eight categories of industries in the Cauvery delta region. The area includes Thanjavur, Tiruvarur and Nagapattinam districts and certain blocks in five adjoining districts.   Industrial belts of Tiruchi, Karur and Ariyalur have been exempted. The aim is to protect the livelihood of farmers in the area.

The delta region is declared an “ecologically sensitive agricultural zone” where such explorations would be detrimental to the environment.

While the on-going exploratory projects have been excluded, there will be a complete ban on   exploration, drilling, and extraction of oil and natural gas, coal-bed methane, and other hydro-carbons. The projects banned are many like iron ore process plant, integrated steel plant, and sponge iron plant, copper and  aluminium  smelter, bone meal, processing of animal horn, hoofs and other  parts, tannery, ship breaking industry, etc. The list does not include petroleum, petro-chemicals, and refineries.

A 30-member TN Protected Agricultural Zone Authority is proposed to be constituted under the Chief Minister. It will be assisted by district-level panels under Collectors. The Bill also proposes punishment for violators with imprisonment for a period ranging from 6 months up to 5 years and fine of not less than Rs. 10 lakh and not more than Rs. 50 lakh.

The region covered under the Act has, according to an estimate made by an expert, 54 % of the country’s lignite reserves. It will doubtless become a case for a bitter fight between agriculture and lignite projects. Can industrialisation and urbanisation be halted by protective laws for agriculture? If yes, where is the line drawn?

Presently, Opposition parties are questioning the exemption given to existing hydro-carbon projects and protection to the harbour, telecommunications, pipelines, power and other utilities.    They suspect that under utilities, gas, petrol and related projects would be started in future.

Such arguments point to the extreme political positions taken by parties looking at the issue from the point of affected farmers only as an election posture and not as a genuine problem in development process. There seems to be no interest in finding a solution to agriculture-industry fight for space protecting all interests. Oil exploration comes under the jurisdiction of the Union Government, but it has not so far raised any objection to the ban law adopted in TN.

Agriculturists maintain that hydro-carbon projects adversely affect subsurface water and the sensitive wetland, mangrove vegetation, and cause sea water intrusion. Conversion of land use from agriculture to urban and industrial development is one of the key components of change in developing economies everywhere. Such conversion is both cause for and result of economic growth and structural change. Land use pattern does not remain constant in any country.

In large and industrial cities, non-agricultural land is more productive than cultivated land in terms of wealth generation. In western countries, economic growth theories have found that land usually plays a marginal role in economic growth.

Every country needs both agriculture and industry like two wheels of a cart. One is not a substitute for the other. Nor are they totally inconsistent with each other. In fact, they depend on each other for their very existence. Agriculture provides raw materials to industries like sugarcane, cotton, oil seeds, fodder, wheat and so on, and industry supplies energy, tools, equipments, vehicles, and all construction work, etc., for farming. The problem is in the availability of land and choice of site.

Still, advocates, who are mostly political groups taking contrary positions, tend to support exclusively one side as if agriculture and industry are isolated compartments. While agriculture seems to be aware of its limitations, industry gives an impression of being contemptuous of agriculture perhaps because we associate development with industrialisation and backwardness   with agriculture.

In 2014, India stood second in the rank of agricultural output producing 8% of global total – behind China in the first place. Half of India’s total workforce was engaged in the agricultural private sector. Its growth was remarkable from the 1970s. In recent years, horticulture, dairy, poultry, and inland fishing elevated India as a global achiever in livestock farming. In the services sector, which is globally considered to be on a high pedestal, India was 11th in the rank order with just 2% of global share, and it was worse in manufacturing.

South Africa has highly skilled farmers, but rapid law-making seems to have impacted farming adversely. Contentious issues like expropriation of land without adequate compensation have been an issue that agitates farming community.

In China, where there is no private ownership of land, land policy has been a major aspect of national macro-economic control. Basic Farmland Protection Regulations prohibit conversion of basic farmland designated as such by counties and townships in accordance with provincial farmland preservation plans to non-farm activities. Land Management Law is revised to protect both environment and agriculture.

Agriculture, rural areas, and farmers’ issues are China’s top priorities for 16th year consecutively since 2004 in the No.1 Central Document. But, scarcity of arable land reduced the farm size per household to 0.96 acre by 2015. The country, according to some experts, faces the twin problem of preserving the quality and quantity of arable land while urbanisation is growing fast reducing the extent of land available for cultivation.

Chinese Government has drawn what is called the “red line” at 307 million acres of arable land by 2020 and closely controls conversion of agricultural land for other uses. Annual quota for land conversion is fixed by the Central Government and for diversion of additional land, new arable land of at least equal size should be provided as compensation. Land beneath farm houses is used for compensation. Farmers cannot convert agricultural land to other uses. They cannot also leave their land uncultivated for more than two years. They have no legal right to resist land acquisition. It is claimed that the policy helps to increase both crop and animal production.

China has reached the stage of abolishing urban-rural dual structure and entering urban-rural integrated development.  Already it is said that one cannot find where rural ends and urban starts.

Land acquisition has always created protests anywhere. Be it Singur or Nandigram in West Bengal,  Raigadh in  Maharashtra, Tiruchi in Tamil Nadu, land is dear to the owner more than the market price for it. To acquire agricultural land for non-agricultural purpose, interest and involvement of affected people in the new projects have to be created. More than that, exploitation of farmers by industrialists and real estate dealers must stop.

….INFA

 

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