Friday, May 20, 2011

Land Grab

From India:

For more than a day, nobody bothered to tell Ombati Devi that her husband was dead.

When he failed to return home on the day farmers were protesting in their village Bhatta-Parsaul, she was told he had been wounded but that he had been taken to hospital where he was receiving treatment. The following evening the police arrived at her home, revealed the truth and took her to the mortuary where she was confronted with the sight of his corpse, caked with dried blood and ruptured by three bullet wounds. "He got injured in the crossfire while he was trying to flee the trouble spot," she said, her voice breaking off.

Her husband, Rajpal Singh, a farm-hand in these twin villages east of Delhi, was the latest of a number of people to be killed or injured in land disputes that have erupted across the length and breadth of India. As state authorities push the pace of industrialisation and private developers look to buy up agricultural land to build new towns and resorts for a newly wealthy upper-middle class, so clashes have become common. At proposed steel factories in Orissa, nuclear plants in Maharashtra and road projects in Mangalore, clashes have broken out when the authorities have sought to force people to part with their land.

Mr Singh was one of four people killed on 7 May, two of them police officers, when farmers held a protest over the amount they were paid for their land by local authorities who are building a new, 110-mile expressway alongside the Yamuna river to Agra, the city famous for the Taj Mahal. As in similar protests elsewhere in the country, the farmers complained that, while they were forced by the government to sell their land in return for a modest sum in compensation, the land was subsequently sold on to private developers for 10 or 15 times the amount.

From China:

The villagers are involved in a six-year protest against a development company that is trying to requisition their crop land for bag-making factories and residential housing. The farmers say they have been forced to give up their harvests for inadequate compensation.

"The developer hired 200 to 300 thugs to come and fight with us," said a man, who only gave his surname, Gao, because he feared retribution. "I was made to sign away my land. If I hadn't, the gangsters would have beaten me." He said six people had been hospitalised in the clashes in January. Demonstrations continue today.

Stories of forced evictions and bloody protests in rural China have been commonplace in recent years as cities sprawl outwards and more land is needed for industrial parks, housing blocks, roads and railways.

Many farmers believe local officials are in cahoots with developers to cheat them of fair compensation and a share of the surge in the land's value when it is recategorised for commercial use. This is a common complaint among the protesters in Xujiancheng, who have smashed the windows in the developer's office, torn down walls erected round their requisitioned farmland and spread protest banners across fences near the building site. In the fiercest protests in January, they carried two empty coffins to the frontline to show their willingness to die

When China's economic miracle caught up with Mrs Wang's cabbage patch, she was having her hair done in a neighbouring village - too far away to hear the township official's bellowed orders, "You have one hour to harvest your crops and then the bulldozers move in." So by the time she found out what was going on and rushed to the site, the fields her family had farmed for generations were already being churned up by mechanical diggers.

She was distraught. But with hundreds of armed police and security guards surrounding the area, there was nothing that she - and the hundreds of other villagers who lost their land that day - could do, except stand by and watch helplessly as their property was claimed for development. "Many villagers were sobbing. I wanted to cry, too, but the tears wouldn't come out," Mrs Wang recalls. "I was so furious." Six months later, the lame 60-year-old peasant - who had never been in trouble before - was in prison, charged with fomenting social unrest.

...Some things to keep in mind when you hear about the "burgeoning middle class" in these countries. The truth is, globalized corporate capitalism does not raise the fortunes of the poor, it makes those already on the top even richer than they already were. People who were middle class before globalization are the same ones who are middle class after globalization. All that happens is that the gap between the rich and poor widens, and what little the people on the bottom have is transferred upward.

In other news, China's Love Of Pork Means Factory Farms Are Displacing Small Farmers.

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