Indian villagers attack a policeman during a protest by farmers demanding better compensation for their land acquired by the state government for an upcoming expressway project near Agra, 17 Aug 2010 -- AP photo
India is fast becoming landless. Or should I say that majority Indians are being deprived of their ownership over land. I think in the years to come, let us say by the end of 11th Plan period, close to 90 per cent of the land will be owned by about 15 per cent of the population, with bulk of the ownership slipping into the hands of not more than 10 per cent of the population comprising essentially the elite.
At present about 70 per cent of the country's land is owned by close to 26 per cent of the population.
It isn't however coming in easy. For several years now, since the time economists/planners began telling us that land is an economic asset and it is unfortunately in hands of people who are inefficient, there has been literally a scramble by business and industry (driven by real estate) to procure as much as possible. The World Bank is backing this strategy, and if you have read the World Development Report 2008, you would know what I mean. It calls for land rentals, and setting up a network of training centres to train the displaced farmers to become industrial labour.
No wonder, the UPA government has made budgetary provisions for setting up 1,000 Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs). Prime Minister himself has been calling for a population shift, moving out 70 per cent of the farming community into urban centres.
Pitched battles are being fought across the country by the poor and deprived, who fear further marginalisation when their land is literally grabbed by the government on behalf of the industry. Over the years agriculture has been deliberately turned into a losing proposition as a result of which farmers, in most places, are keen to move out provided they get a better price for their land.
State governments across the country are facilitating the process of takeover. Whether it is for the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) or IT parks or nuclear reactors or airports or building a new capital or even for biofuel plantations, the battle for land has become fierce.
In fact, it will not be wrong to assume that many Chief Ministers have for all practical purposes become property dealers.
Gone are the days when a worried Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister, while addressing the nation on Aug 15, 1955 from the ramparts of the Red Fort in New Delhi said: "It is very humiliating for any country to import food. So everything else can wait, but not agriculture." That was in 1955. Fifty-five years later, in 2010, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh thinks that food security can be addressed by importing food. Land must be acquired for the industry, because the industrial sector alone will be the vehicle for higher growth.
Successive governments have used the Land Acquisition Act 1894, framed by the British during the days of the Raj, to forcibly evict landowners in the name of public good. It is only lately that landowners have realised the economic worth of their land, and have begun to demand a higher price. But still, government prefer to buy land at a throwaway price, and then sell it to the industry at exorbitant rates. The Real Estate and the industry then sells it to prospective buyers at a phenomenal price.
No one wants to throw away the stale law into the dustbin of history. Political parties are willing to accept it with a few changes. Political pressure is therefore mounting on the government to bring back the Land Acquisition (Amendment) bill 2007, along with the accompanying Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill, 2009 which were introduced in Parliament on Feb 25, 2009, but was allowed to lapse in view of the strong opposition from Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee.
I am not getting into the nitty-gritty of the two bills introduced earlier. I want to draw your attention to another significant Supreme Court judgement which the industry does not like (and therefore the government is not talking about). A bench comprising Justice Mukundakam Sharma and Anil R Dave has held that not only the present market value but also future potential value, and the purpose for which the land is to be used, must be taken into account for arriving at just compensation.
The Hindu (Aug 22, 2010) reports: For providing Adi Dravidas with house sites, the Tamil Nadu government acquired 3.90 acres at Palangudi in Tiruchi district in September 1992. The land Acquisition Officer awarded Rs 1.72 a square foot. At the instance of appellant A Natesan Pillai the reference court fixed the market value of the land at Rs 17 a sq foot. On the State's appeal, the Madras High Court fixed the value at Rs 9. Hearing this case, the Supreme Court said: It cannot be disputed that the acquired land, being in the heart of the city and having excellent prospects of being used as residential site, definitely has an edge regarding potential value.."
Meanwhile, here is a report from Voice of America on the continuing fight for land In India.
India Witnesses Growing Conflict Over Land
New Delhi 23 August 2010:
In India, protests by farmers about land acquisition in the country's most populated state have focused attention on the growing conflict about land, as the economy modernizes. The growing resistance by rural communities about giving up their land for industrial expansion is throwing up new challenges for India.
The violent protests in the northern state, Uttar Pradesh, earlier this month were sparked by demands by farmers for higher compensation for land taken from them to build a highway connecting New Delhi with the tourist hub, Agra, home to the Taj Mahal. Three farmers were killed in the demonstration.
The clashes are the latest in a series of protests which have erupted in many parts of the country about efforts to acquire farmland for infrastructure projects or industry.
As India industrializes, businesses are in search of more land to build factories. The government is under pressure to quickly improve rickety infrastructure and build more highways, power stations and railways to meet the needs of an expanding economy.
The only free land available is populated, fertile farm land across rural India. Moving farmers and tribal communities off the land is not always proving to be easy.
Some farmers complain that compensation given for their land is too low. And, they worry about loss of their livelihood in a country where two thirds of the billion-plus people live off the land.
Devinder Sharma of the Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security in New Delhi says promises of employment in the new industries do not materialize for the bulk of the farmers whose land is taken away. He says many of them are driven to an uncertain future in cities.
He says the new economy cannot sustain the kind of employment which farming provides in a populous country.
"No industry or group of industries can provide the kind of jobs or the scale of jobs India needs," Sharma said. "In a country which has 600 million farmers including their families, I don't think any industry has the capability or even industrial sector has the capability to provide even jobs to even one-tenth of that population."
Read the full report at: http://www1.voanews.com/english/news/asia/India-Witnesses-Growing-Conflict-Over-Land-101293609.html