The link between free markets and controversial land reforms in India & China

30 Oct

According to the Telegraph, “India’s poor in land rights march”, as many as 25,000 landless poor have marched to New Delhi, demanding the government and the middle classes to acknowledge their needs. An Al Jazeera article, “Indian peasants march to Delhi” dated 29 October, reported that the peaceful procession, which lasted for a month, saw protestors marching 350 kilometres from the central city of Gwalior.

Though the police have stopped the protestors from reaching the Parliament, they have staged a sit-down protest at a large, dusty carnival ground in the heart of Delhi, according to the BBC. The protestors have demanded the government sets up a National Land Authority, fast-track courts and a single window system to deal with land and livelihood disputes.

Similar controversial land reforms and land grabs are taking place in China.

According to China’s Public Security Bureau, a total of 87,000 public disturbances or demonstrations are recorded in 2005; an increase of 6.6% from 2004 and 50% in 2003. Most of the protesters are poor rural workers or peasants who are displeased over illegal land grabs, inadequate compensation for land requisition and official corruption.

That these demonstrations, some violent, have emerged is the direct result of controversial land reforms and land grabs, caused by governments opening up their country to “free markets” forces; mainly to attract large overseas corporations to invest in these areas. The corrupted local government then forces or cheats farmers or rural peasants to lose their lands, and hence, their means of livelihood.

In China, these conflicts are a result of local governments collaborating with developers; who arbitrarily seize these lands for industrial or residential projects. Only a small amount of the land payments by developers are used to compensate the affected farmers.

In India, farmers are forced from their land or cheated of its value by local mafias or corrupt officials when land is acquired for governmental projects such as mines, dams and special economic zones aimed at attracting foreign firms with generous tax breaks. Its vague property laws and widespread corruption are blamed for widespread poverty amongst Indian farmers.

The plight of the rural workers has deteriorated in recent years. Last year, the average urban incomes in China is 3.28 times higher than that of rural incomes. The march organiser in India, Puthan Vithal Rajgopal also told AFP in a news report that “forty percent of Indians are now landless and 23 per cent of them are in abject poverty”.

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