Friday, June 17, 2011

India’s tryst with Land Acquisition legislation

Farmers need soil to grow crops. Soil is available when land is present and if land is snatched away, growing crops would be next to impossible. Thus, access to land guarantees food production and it also helps in ensuring livelihood security of tillers, farmers and peasants. However, economics is about trade-offs. Given that land to man ratio is relatively low in our country, an economist would argue, it would be rational if available scarce land is put to best possible use that guarantees better return than agriculture. In order to sustain high economic growth, land is needed to make highways, IT plus knowledge parks, SEZs, factories, dams, roads, irrigation canals, nuclear reactors. It is also true that value of land gets higher if it is developed well, is located near a town or city, when access to road, port or railways is easier from such a piece of land and water and electricity are available in the vicinity. A better quality of land would fetch a higher price to a land owner.

We are observing a trend recently when agricultural land is being converted for industrial purposes. There are success stories that tell us that farmers have become millionaires and bought land rovers by simply selling their ancestral land directly to corporates or builders. Other examples of land acquisition by the State for public purpose show that farmers’ agitations against forcible grabbing have been ruthlessly suppressed using police might, be it Singur, Nandigram, Niyamgiri, Kalinganagar, Jagatsinghpur, Jaitapur or Bhatta-Parsaul.

Suggestions for Compensation

Land is a symbol of social status and it has an emotional value attached to it. Land acquisition is subject to numerous complicated issues. Compensation is just one issue among several haunting the land owners during the process of land acquisition. But it is an important issue, which has been much neglected. In India, women, dalits and tribals traditionally do not have title to land. Traditional rights to cultivate are undermined by the modern laws. Without private property rights and land registration, marginalized sections suffer the most during land acquisition. In the absence of registration, small and marginal farmers fall prey to middlemen while selling their land and thus they seldom enjoy the full amount paid as compensation. Compensation can be paid in kind too. Some economists argue that imparting proper training to farmers who have lost their land would help them in getting absorbed in the industrial labour force (proletarianization). Since lump sum money received as compensation can be spent non-judiciously and hurriedly by the not so ‘prudent’ farmers, it is prescribed that long-term annuities are paid to them separately (also called as Haryana model).

The absentee land owners are found more willing to sell their land as they are less interested in cultivation. However, agricultural labourers and share croppers, working on those lands, are the ones who are completely at loss due to this. The National Advisory Council (NAC) has, therefore, rightly said that share-croppers, landless labourers, artisans et al should receive ten days’ minimum wage per month for thirty three years when land is acquired by the State for ‘public purposes’.

Getting the right and fair valuation of land and clearly defining the term ‘public purpose’ are remaining issues concerning land acquisition. Should the value of land be based on the average price of land in the past or it should be evaluated on the basis of its future value, which would be comparatively higher as a result of setting up of industry? In case the State is mediating in the sale and purchase of land, getting farmers the fair price of their land is the demand. The NAC has proposed that compensation for those who lose land will be six times the registered sale deed value including solatium.

Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill 2007

The colonial Land Acquisition Act of 1894 has been termed as draconian since it allows the State to forcibly acquire land from private landholders for projects of public purpose. Under Section 4 (1) of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, notification of acquisition has to be published in the official gazette and in two daily newspapers circulating in that locality of which one shall be in the regional language. A person gets only 30 days from the date of publication of preliminary notification to raise any objection to the acquisition. Special powers of urgency under Section 17 (1) allow a district collector to over-ride all objections and acquire private land after the expiry of 15 days from the publication of the notice.

Since a large number of old cases were pending in various courts, the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill was introduced in lieu of a new comprehensive legislation. Prior to 2007, the Land Acquisition Act was amended in 1962, 1967 and 1984 after Independence. The amendment proposed in the Land Acquisition Bill (2007) redefines ‘public purpose’ as land acquired for defence (strategic) purposes, infrastructure projects, or for any project useful to the general public where 70% of the land has already been purchased. Still there is a pitched battle on what should be included under the term ‘public purposes’. The clause 5(v)(f)(iii) of the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, which includes acquisition of land for any other purpose useful to the general public has been considered as extremely vague by many legal experts. Provision of providing 30 per cent of land by the Government to the companies is expected to encourage the private sector to acquire more and more land. Once 70 per cent of the land required by a project is acquired by the private parties, the market value of the surrounding area is expected to rise. As a result the Government would acquire the rest 30 per cent of the land at a market price higher than the price at which 70 percent of the land was bought earlier. This would deprive the persons who had agreed to sell their land on a ‘willing seller-willing buyer’ basis. Those people who would sell their land to the Government later are likely to be benefited. In principle, the NAC disagrees with the 70:30 formula.

Those siding with the corporate sector think that the State should not intervene when private parties acquire land. Private businesses and industrial houses can purchase directly from the farmers and this would be beneficial for both the parties. The Left, given its arch rivalry with capitalism, opposed the amendment sought in the Land Acquisition Bill (2007) that State intervention is allowed in acquiring 30 per cent of land for private developers provided they have acquired the remaining 70 per cent for setting up industrial and SEZ projects. The Left parties raised their objection to the 70:30 formula made by the amendment and instead asked for the land to be entirely acquired by the State. During that time when Mamata Banerjee was not the Chief Minister of West Bengal, she opposed this proposition and wanted the formula to be changed to 90:10. However, she now feels that State intervention in land acquisition done privately is justified. In the absence of State intervention it is possible that middlemen and touts of the industrial bodies enter the scenario and start exploiting the small and marginal farmers. State’s role is crucial for just land compensation made by the private parties. The NAC has recommended that it is upto the states to decide the extent of percentage of the total land to be acquired by them.

The Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2007 was passed by the Lok Sabha on 25th February 2009 but the bill lapsed with the dissolution of the 14th Lok Sabha. Both BJP and CPI (M) opposed the Land Acquisition Amendment Bill and the Relief & Rehabilitation Bill in the Rajya Sabha. The NAC has recently asked for consolidating the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill 2009 and Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill, 2009 under the title Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Act, 2011.

Food Security

This point could have appeared at the beginning itself: should land be acquired at all for industries? Those who are on the side of food security would say no but we know the answer coming from those who believe that country’s progress lies in industrialization. Agricultural land can be protected if a collector under Rule 4 (vi) of Land Acquisition (Companies) Rules, 1963 reports that a land proposed to be acquired is good agriculture land and that no alternate, suitable site can be found. The National Policy for Farmers 2007 talks about conserving prime farmland. NAC’s recent recommendation that acquisition of barren and less fertile land should be done first for industrial purposes is most welcome since it indirectly talks of conserving our valuable agricultural land under assured irrigation and multiple cropping for food production. But there is nothing new in this recommendation because according to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry the Board of approvals follow the general principle that in case of land acquisition for Special Economic Zones, first priority should be for acquisition of waste and barren land and if necessary single crop agricultural land could be acquired for the SEZs. For the sake of information, one must know that total cultivable land in India has decreased from 185.09 million hectares in 1980-81 to 182.57 million hectares in 2005-06 and total wasteland has decreased from 16.74 million hectares in 1980-81 to 13.16 million hectares during the year 2005-06. Acquired land non-performing for five years should be returned to original owners is another recommendation of NAC, which has been also well received.

Other Recommendations

Under the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, gram sabhas are empowered to stop acquisition of private and public land, which is done illegally. They need to be consulted before public or private land is acquired in the panchayat as per Section 4 (i) of the PESA Act. Despite these provisions, the country has witnessed several cases of violation of the PESA legislation. Information regarding land acquisition is not passed to the gram sabhas or villages. Therefore, the NAC has made a bold recommendation that consent of 70 percent of the affected families in a gram sabha before acquisition is compulsory. A National Commission for Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation (NCLRR) should be established to assess extent of displacement based on Social Impact Assessment and urgency clause for land acquisition should be used for purposes such as defence, national security and safety of lives as per recommendations of the NAC. Others are saying that landowners in a village should be able to collectively negotiate land transfers and demand for either land-for-land exchange or other types of stake-holding and compensation so that the process becomes participatory.

Apart from the NAC, the recommendations made by the Standing Committee Report on the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill 2007 sound rational and egalitarian. It recommended that the optimum size of land required for a project needs to be determined so that excessive acquisition of land doesn't take place. There should be some legislation like Forest Conservation Act 1980 so that agricultural land can be protected like forest land. There is an urgent need to develop wasteland where agricultural land is acquired. Since displacement leads to traumatic psychological and socio-cultural consequences, multiple displacements of affected families need to be avoided. States should declare the area where the tribals are rehabilitated as Scheduled Area. Land rights of tribals and forest dwellers should be recognized as per the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 so that they are compensated and rehabilitated during the process of land acquisition. The details of the property to be acquired viz. khasra numbers in rural areas and quarter number in urban areas should be identified and widely publicized through prominent local English, Hindi and regional language newspapers. There is a need to avoid complications arising due to inadequacy of communicating the intent of acquisition through notification especially in hilly, tribal and remote areas. In order to circulate notification on rehabilitation and resettlement, the Government should rely on newspapers in local vernacular. Affected persons should be provided 60 days from the date of publication of the notification to object to the acquisition of land. Social Impact Assessment study should be done for all projects that displace physically more than 400 families in plain and 200 families in hilly, tribal and scheduled areas (same as NAC recommendation). Highest price of sale deed as indicated in the sale deeds of the last three years plus 50 per cent of the said highest price should be the criteria for assessing and determining the market value of land. For tribal areas, the highest price of a sale deed of the adjoining non-tribal blocks/ village for the last three years plus 50 per cent should be the criteria for assessing and determining the market value of land. Non agricultural land having valuable mineral resources underneath should be properly evaluated for granting compensation. A share of the economic benefits earned due to setting up a project on a land, which is acquired should go to the affected families. Issue of shares and debentures as part of the compensation is impractical and as such issue of shares and debentures should be over and above the admissible compensation. The rate of solatium should be increased from thirty per centum on market value to sixty per centum on market value. (The NAC has, however, demanded for a solatium of hundred per centum). Land Acquisition Compensation Disputes Settlement Authorities (a kind of Ombudsman) at the Centre and State level should be created for the disposal of disputes, which remain pending in the courts of law. Record of large tracts of unutilized land available with various Ministries needs to be kept before further land acquisition.


Standing Committee Report on the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill 2007

Land Violence: Law not at fault by Manoj Pant, The Economic Times, 30 May, 2011,

Why We Must Oppose the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill of 2009 by D Bandyopadhyay, Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 35, August 15, 2009,

Pranab Bardhan, The real issues behind land acquisition,

The vexed issue of land acquisition by Pranab Bardhan, The Business Standard, 23 September, 2009,

The ugly side of land acquisition in India,, 31 May, 2010,

Land acquisition, R&R Bills lapse by Sreelatha Menon, The Business Standard, 28 February, 2009

PESA: Government's sheathed weapon, The Economic Times, 20 May, 2010,

FAQ: Why is land acquisition so controversial? by MR Madhavan,, 12 May, 2011,

Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996,

Madhya Pradesh Panchayat Raj and Gram Swaraj (Amendment) Act, 2004,,%202004.pdf

Report of the Committee formed by the Government of India, Ministry of Panchayat Raj, Raghav Chandra Report,

Report of the Sub Committee appointed by The Ministry of Panchayati Raj to draft Model Guide-Lines to vest Gram Sabhas with powers as envisaged in PESA,

Report of the Committee of Officers on Issues ralating to minor produce in PESA states, February2007,

Farmers' fury by TK Rajalakshmi, Frontline, Volume 27, Issue 20, 25 September-08 October, 2010,

Court slams U.P.'s land acquisition policy by J Venkatesan, The Hindu, 22 September, 2010,

Q+A - India confronts land grabs in industry push by CJ Kuncheria, Reuters, 15 September, 2010,

Govt to go slow on expressways after Sonia intervention by Nidhi Sharma, The Economic Times, 13 September, 2010,

Miners may’ve to share revenues with displaced by Subhash Narayan & Rohini Singh, The Economic Times, 13 September, 2010,

Naveen making false claims: agitators by Prafulla Das, The Hindu, 15 June, 2011,

Anti-Posco group slams Ramesh for clearance, IBN, 13 June, 2011,

NAC’s seven-point test for land acquisition bill, The Hindu, 10 June, 2011,

Let barren land be explored first: NAC by Smita Gupta, The Hindu, 10 June, 2011,

Land Acquisition: Government as a Facilitator is the Best Option by Diptendra Raychaudhuri, Mainstream Weekly, Vol XLIX, No 24, June 4, 2011,

The great land grab: India's war on farmers by Vandana Shiva,, 7 June, 2011,

Sound policy shift, The Hindu, 7 June, 2011,

Maya land policy is a good model, The Deccan Chronicle, 5 June, 2011,

New land Bill allows states to script own role by Saubhadra Chatterji, The Business Standard, 3 June, 2011,

Mayawati announces new Land Acquisition Policy by Atiq Khan, The Hindu, 3 June, 2011,

Maya announces new land acquisition policy by Ashish Tripathi, The Times of India, 2 June, 2011,

Ex gratia for Jaitapur villagers soon: Chavan, The Hindu, 2 June, 2011,

Success stories by Venkitesh Ramakrishnan, Frontline, Volume 28, Issue 12, 4-17 June, 2011,

The great land grab by Venkitesh Ramakrishnan, Frontline, Volume 28, Issue 12, 4-17 June, 2011,

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Every thirty minutes, a farmer commits suicide

Flouting of dalit and gender rights contribute to committing of farmer suicides despite Government’s effort, according to a report by the Centre for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ).

The report issued by CHRGJ and the International Human Rights Clinic (at New York University School of Law) claims that farmers’ suicide, which is connected to agrarian crisis will become more severe due to the existing gender and caste-based discrimination in the Indian society since the government has so far taken only financial steps as policy measures instead of going for structural changes.

In the document titled Every Thirty Minutes-Farmer Suicides, Human Rights, and the Agrarian Crisis in India, 2011 (for the full report please check the link no.1 and for the press release check the link no. 2) it is said that there is a deep association between farmer suicides and caste or gender-based discrimination. After the implementation of neo-liberal policies in India (pertaining to commercial/ corporate agriculture) the pattern of farming has witnessed a sea change. Due to socio-economic obstacles, farmers belonging to the so-called “lower caste” lack the essential technology to undertake corporate farming and it is possible that debt burden on these farmers for carrying out cotton farming based on Bt cotton or farming cash crops which is capital-intensive in nature may be more compared to the rest.

According to the same report “lower caste” farmers and their families face discriminatory policies when it comes to land entitlement. Farmers who do not have title to land are not enumerated as the same in official surveys and therefore when the family head dies by committing suicide, the family is often deprived of the compensation and relief package which is being offered by the Government. Similarly, tenant farmers are not counted as farmers. In technical terms, a large section of farmers who do not have title to land are women, dalits and tribals and the Government of India’s National Crime Records Bureau statistics actually underestimates the number of farmer suicides. Marginalized sections like women and dalits do not enjoy access to formal credit as they do not have title to land (property rights). Being a signatory of International human rights treaties, the Government of India has been appealed by the present report to end, investigate and undertake proper steps regarding caste/ gender factors related to farmer suicides.

In order to make the point that families of farmers who committed suicides owing to debt burden in the midst of agrarian crisis, face social injustice and discrimination to access relief schemes of the government, the report has provided several examples. The report mentions the story of Kalawati. The patriarchal society in India often deprives the women of their rightful access to land title and in the midst of agrarian crisis the impact may be fatal. The Government of Maharastra provides a compensation of Rs. 1 lakh to the family of a farmer who has committed suicide on the basis of three conditions. The first condition is that the farmer must have titled land; the second is he must be indebted at time of committing suicide; and the third is indebtedness must be the primary reason behind his suicide. Despite fulfillment of the above 3 conditions, families of farmers who committed suicide are still deprived of the compensation by the Government.

The story of Kalawati Bandurkar is similar to this. In 2007, her husband committed suicide. Kalawati is a mother of nine children and grandmother of five children. Apart from working as a labourer on others’ field, she farms on a separate cropping field of 9 acres size. After the death of her husband, Kalawati did not receive any compensation because the piece of land (9 acres) on which her family cultivates is not owned but has been taken on lease.

The truth revealed by this report is unquestionable. According to a news report by The Hindustan Times [see link no. 3], death toll due to suicide could have reached 28 in Vidarbha by the month of May, 2011 due to agrarian crisis and economic distress. So far, the number of farmers who have committed suicide from Vidarbha is 203 this year. Government’s claim that its two relief schemes worth Rs. 5050 crore have been able to reduce the incidents of suicide is false.

According to statistics provided by the National Crime Records Bureau during the year 2009, 348 persons committed suicide everyday out which 48 were farmers. Since 2004 on an average 47 farmers commit suicide every day which means every 30 minutes a farmer commits suicide (please check the links below).

Key findings of the report- Every Thirty Minutes-Farmer Suicides, Human Rights, and the Agrarian Crisis in India:

  • Statistics compiled by the Government of India reveal that 241,679 farmers in India committed suicide between 1995 and 2009. According to P. Sainath (journalist from The Hindu)—who has documented the crisis since it first started—the 2010 figures will likely bring this number up to more than 250,000.

  • In 2009 alone, the most recent year for which official figures are available, 17,638 farmers committed suicide—that’s one farmer every 30 minutes.

  • According to national census figures, between 1991 and 2001, eight million Indians left farming. While forthcoming data from the 2011 census will provide updated figures for the total number who have left farming since 2001, there is no indication that this move away from farming has declined in any way.

  • Records show that the suicide rates are highest where cotton production is highest. Though the Indian government has long been alerted to the cotton farmer suicide crisis, it has failed to respond with solutions that adequately address the issue. Cotton is a cash crop, which makes it particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in the global market. Cotton stands in as a prime example of India’s general move away from food production toward cash crop cultivation, a shift that has contributed significantly to farmer vulnerability, as evidenced by the fact that the majority of suicides are committed by farmers in the cash crop sector. The cotton industry, like other cash crops in India, is one that has been dominated by foreign multinationals.

  • Farmer suicide counts have been tragically high in the states of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal. These states are among the highest cotton producing states in the country. In Andhra Pradesh alone, at least 17,775 farmers committed suicide between 2002 and 2009. There, Bt cotton crops generated much lower yields than non-Bt cotton crops for smallholder farmers during years with drought. The use of Bt cottonseed, contrary to advertising, also failed to reduce pesticide usage for many farmers. Moreover, high seed prices raised the farmers’ input costs, while sale prices remained low. In the state of Maharashtra, more than 2,500 farmers committed suicide each year between 2002 and 2009.

  • In 2006, the national government flagged funds from the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund to relieve farmers of debt, but there has been little enthusiasm about its results. In 2008 the Finance Minister enacted the Agricultural Debt Waiver and Debt Relief Scheme. The scheme provided debt waivers for marginal and small farmers, defined as owning two or fewer hectares of land. For other farmers, the relief scheme provided a 25 percent debt relief. Many farmers, who own more than two hectares but still suffer from extreme indebtedness, were unable to pay the remaining 75 percent needed to qualify for the program. In either case, the scheme only applied to loans from banks and not to loans from informal moneylenders. Farmers who took out loans from moneylenders to pay for expensive inputs are excluded from the government’s assistance program. An additional important shortcoming of the debt waiver scheme is that it did not distinguish between irrigated and non-irrigated land.

  • Although farmers’ credit sources vary from state to state, the farmers who do depend on rural banks are feeling the effects of the ten percent decline of rural banks nationwide in the past decade, a problematic trend that the Indian government has failed to address.






Wednesday, June 8, 2011

RTI Act: Is it running well?

The Right to Information (RTI) Act, which was passed by the Indian Parliament on 15 June, 2005 is regarded as one of the most powerful tool in fighting corruption and ensuring transparency in the government. Prior to the Indian RTI Act, various states enacted their own RTI legislation such as Tamil Nadu (1997), Goa (1997), Rajasthan (2000), Karnataka (2000), Delhi (2001), Maharashtra (2002), Madhya Pradesh (2003), Assam (2002) and Jammu and Kashmir (2004). The RTI Act is inspired by the Freedom of Information (Access to Information) legislation that has been in existence in countries like United States of America (1967), Sweden (1766) etc. Around the world, there are some 85 countries which have their own FoI legislation.

The RTI movement was initiated by the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) in Dungarpur, Rajasthan so as to demand minimum wages for the labourers employed in public work. When MKSS found that ghost entries were made in the muster rolls to siphon off the money meant for the labourers, it was compelled to demand official information recorded in government files. Hence, originated the social audit campaign. When Aruna Roy became a member of the National Advisory Council (NAC) under UPA 1, she held widespread public consultations with civil society organizations and key govt. officials on India's RTI legislation due to which the law finally got enacted.

Innovative initiatives under the RTI:

  • The Bihar Govt. has initiated a six seater Jankari call centre, which facilitates a caller in drafting the RTI application and the fee is collected through the phone bill. RTI Helpline in Bangalore is providing RTI information to citizens.

  • Maharashtra has created 5 offices of the Information Commission in Pune, Mumbai, Aurangabad, Amravati and Nagpur to enable citizens to approach the most convenient regional office.

  • Assam has adapted a “Train the Trainers” concept, where the Government trains the CSOs/NGOs to impart training to citizens on RTI in order to maximize the reach of RTI and ensure that there is local ownership and sustainability.

  • Review of Public Authorities by Andhra Pradesh State Information Commission.

  • Public hearings at the district headquarters by Kerala State Information Commission.

  • The CIC website has a feature for online submission of complaints and second appeals

  • Since its formation in 2009, Society for Social Audit, Accountability & Transparency (SSAAT) in Andhra Pradesh has succeeded in creating a massive social capital by identifying and training more than 60,000 educated youth in the villages in conducting social audit.

Source: Understanding the “Key Issues and Constraints” in implementing the RTI Act, June 2009

The RTI law has witnessed mixed successes so far. A Times of India report dated 7 April, 2011 says that the Chief Information Commission (CIC), which has 6 information commissioners (ICs), has a pendency of around 15,000 appeals and the disposal rate is below 3,000 per commissioner.

A report titled Understanding the "Key Issues and Constraints” in implementing the RTI Act (2009) by PricewaterhouseCoopers show that there exists low awareness about RTI law among women, SCs, STs, OBCs and rural people and the quality of awareness is too poor. Unavailability of user guides is a major obstacle in RTI implementation. RTI application forms are not standardized across the states. Inadequate efforts have been made to receive RTI applications through electronic means, i.e. emails, websites etc. There is no convenient payment channel for submission of application fees. Citizens are not assisted everywhere to file RTI applications and the public information officers (PIOs) are unfriendly towards them. Most citizens are dissatisfied with the quality of information provided. It takes more than 30 days to receive information from the PIOs. PIOs are not adequately trained. The Record Management System is obsolete to carry out timely disposal of a RTI application. Unavailability of basic infrastructure such as photocopier machines hampers implementation of RTI. Information is not disseminated on a suo-moto basis. There is dearth of skilled staff. The study titled Safeguarding the Right to Information-Interim Findings of the People’s RTI Assessment 2008 tells that of the total RTI applications filed, nearly two-thirds got a response from the public authorities.


Understanding the “Key Issues and Constraints” in implementing the RTI Act* June 2009,

Dispose of 3,200 pleas every yr: CIC by Viju B, The Times of India, 7 April, 2011,

Safeguarding the Right to Information-Interim Findings of the People’s RTI Assessment 2008, October 2008, conducted by RTI Assessment & Analysis Group (RaaG) and National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) (in collaboration with other institutes/ organizations),

Monday, May 16, 2011

Is the Internet really free in India?

No, it is not. Freedom on the Net 2011: A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media report, which got released on 18 April, 2011, is a comprehensive study of Internet freedom in 37 countries around the globe. India receives a score of 36 points (partly free) on Freedom on the Net* as compared to 13 (free) by USA, 55 (partly free) by Pakistan and 83 (not free) by China. However, India's Freedom on the Net has declined by 2 points from 34 in 2009 to 36 in 2011.

Freedom on the Net 2011 report from Freedom House observes that governments in 15 out of 37 countries have engaged in blocking of politically relevant content. Following terrorist attacks in Mumbai during November, 2008 and expansion of Maoist insurgency, the Indian Government seems keen to control the communications sector (in the face of increased Internet and mobile phone penetration). Amendments done to the Information Technology Act in 2008 have expanded the government's censorship and monitoring capabilities. In August 2010, the Department of Telecommunications was asked by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) to suspend newly introduced 3G mobile service and halt providers’ ongoing rollout of the technology, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir. One could observe short-message service (SMS), or text messaging, being blocked periodically in Jammu and Kashmir. Mass text messaging across India got banned (for 3 days) by the Government of India on 23 September, 2010 in anticipation of a court ruling on a hotly disputed place of worship in Ayodhya.

There exists pressure since late 2009 on private intermediaries to remove certain information in compliance with administrative censorship orders, with the implementation of the amended IT Act. Ever since the IT Act was amended, Google has received more requests for data and content removal during the period 2009-2010. Apart from the Chaitanya Kunte-Barkha Dutt episode, there is hardly any instance when a blogger is asked to take down his writings. Bloggers are expected to write in a sensible manner that may not incite violence. However, arrests have been made in the past for online postings to defame historical figure or to post derogatory comments about any political leader. .

The report on Internet freedom may be relevant for those who know that the Indian government has recently proposed (in April, 2011) to regulate content on blogs. Intermediaries who provide web-hosting services, Internet service providers and online auction sites are asked not to display, upload, modify or publish any information that is 'harmful', 'threatening', 'abusive', 'harassing', 'blasphemous', 'objectionable', 'defamatory', 'vulgar', 'obscene', 'pornographic', 'paedophilic', 'libellous', 'invasive of another's privacy', 'hateful', 'disparaging', 'racially , ethnically or otherwise objectionable', 'relating to money laundering or gambling'. In response to the government's move, bloggers feel that their right to agitate and dissent would be seriously undermined due to changes in the IT Act norms. Some experts think that the new rules are going to provide a lot of discretion to non-judicial authorities so as to decide whether an intermediary has observed due diligence or not. Others feel that privacy of individuals would be violated if government has easier access to content from intermediaries. The culture of debate and discussion on the Internet could be affected if such restrictions are imposed. The new rules do not allow the bloggers to defend their content. Some of the rules appear extremely vague.

The report on digital freedom, which has been edited by Sanja Kelly and Sarah Cook tells us that website blocking and filtering, content manipulation, attacks on and imprisonment of bloggers, and cyber attacks have increased during the recent past. The study shows that Internet freedom is increasingly undermined by legal harassment, opaque censorship procedures and expanding surveillance even in democracies like India, Brazil, Indonesia, S Korea, Turkey and the UK. Popularity of advanced applications like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter among ordinary users has made governments in 12 out of 37 countries to consistently or temporarily impose bans on such services.

* Ratings by Freedom on the Net are determined through an examination of three broad categories: obstacles to access, limits on content, and violation of user rights.

1. Obstacles to Access: assesses infrastructural and economic barriers to access; governmental efforts to block specific applications or technologies; and legal, regulatory and ownership control over internet and mobile phone access providers.

2. Limits on Content: examines filtering and blocking of websites; other forms of censorship and self-censorship; manipulation of content; the diversity of online news media; and usage of digital media for social and political activism.

3. Violations of User Rights: measures legal protections and restrictions on online activity; surveillance; privacy; and repercussions for online activity, such as legal prosecution, imprisonment, physical attacks, or other forms of harassment.

Further readings:

Freedom on the Net 2011: A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media by Sanja Kelly and Sarah Cook,

The 10 Tools of Online Oppressors by Committee to Protect Journalists,

Press Freedom Index 2010,,1034.html

Concern over impact of Internet control rules on free speech by Sandeep Joshi, The Hindu, 11 May, 2011,

India Puts Tight Leash on Internet Free Speech by Vikas Bajaj, The New York Times, 27 April, 2011,

Bloggers up against restrictions by Vasudha Venugopal, The Hindu, 13 March, 2011,

Plan to muzzle bloggers sparks outcry by Atul Thakur, The Times of India, 10 March, 2011,

New Rules May Make Online Censorship Easier In India by John Ribeiro,, 8 March, 2011,

Bloggers call content regulation a gag on freedom by Srividya Iyer, The Economic Times, 9 March, 2011,

A Revolution, Unplugged by Aprille Muscara, 1 February, 2011,

IT Act, if enforced, will leave Internet use no freer than in China, DNA India

Draconian rulebook irks netizens, Deccan Chronicle

India sliding down Internet freedom - Freedom Institute, RTN

New cyber regulation smells of Big Brother, Hindustan Times

Google opposes proposed Internet law, India Today

Google external lawyer on India, Wall Street Journal

Flagged for Removal: Online Censorship on the Rise by Aprille Muscara, 2 May, 2011,