February 13, 2019 / 12:33 PM / a year ago

Indian opposition says would tighten land use rules to help farmers

LUCKNOW, India, Feb 13 (Reuters) - India’s opposition, bidding to unseat Prime Minister Narendra Modi in upcoming elections, will impose tight curbs on land acquisition for industry if voted into power to help protect farmers, its leaders said on Wednesday.

Indian political parties are facing a backlash from voters in the countryside, with farmers upset over weak produce prices and a lack of jobs, fuelling a race to appease them ahead of the elections that are due by May.

Akhilesh Yadav, leader of the regional Samajwadi Party in the most populous Uttar Pradesh state, told Reuters that no fertile land should be given up to industry.

Concerns over farmers’ rights have risen over a $17 billion bullet train project that Modi has pushed, prompting protests by fruit growers who are set to lose some of their land in western Maharashtra.

Mango farmers in Maharashtra are also trying to block a planned $44 billion refinery to be run by a consortium including Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil producer.

“You have to decide if you want a government for the industry, or for the poor,” Yadav said in an interview in Lucknow, capital of Uttar Pradesh which is a battleground state electing the largest number of representatives to parliament.

“We want to build industry, right? We’ll put it in Chambal-Yamuna, I have plenty of land there,” Yadav said, referring to an underdeveloped part of Uttar Pradesh where there is little farming.

But companies are hesitant to go there because it is remote, lacks good connectivity and is considered part of the state’s crime belt.

Yadav has entered into an alliance with a party representing lower castes and is trying to form a broader coalition with the main opposition Congress and other regional parties against Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and ensure there is no division of votes.

A spokesman for Congress said the party would work to protect the interest of farmers, especially those will small land holdings. It supported the idea of industry setting up projects in underdeveloped areas and said they could be offered incentives.

“We are going to be very focused on the farming community,” Sanjay Jha said. “We believe that India is facing a humongous rural crisis at the moment.”

Polls are predicting a tight finish in the election, raising the possibility that regional chieftains like Yadav will become key players in any coalition government.

Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Nick Macfie

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