Mar 13, 2015

Land Acquisition: Let's have a land audit first.

In the days to come the battle over Land takeover is only going to be intensified, both in Parliament as well as on the streets. As various farmer organizations get ready to storm Jantar Mantar on Mar 18, and Anna Hazare planning a padyatra from Mar 30, the government itself is getting ready to face the tough challenge in Rajya Sabha where it lacks the numbers.

While the Lok Sabha passed the LandAcquisition bill with 11 minor amendments, most of these already existing in the 2013 law, the painstaking defense by Rural Development Minister Birender Singh has failed to cut much ice. In the shrieking debates and the deafening noise that preceded and still continues, the real issues behind the need for a law that allows forceful takeover of land have disappeared from public scrutiny. In this article I am trying to analyse some of the main arguments that have been floated to justify land acquisition without the consent of the farmer.

I hear again and again that the availability of land is coming in the way of development. Projects worth Rs 4-lakh crore are held up because of non-availability of land. While the government has failed to provide a list of projects that have been held up, Economic Survey 2015 does not list land as a limiting factor for infrastructure projects to take off. It states that the projects are held up because of unfavourable market conditions, and lack of investor interest. Secondly, if land availability was a factor I don’t see any reason why over 576 Special Economic Zones should have failed to perform.

A CAG report says that out of the 45,635.63 hectares of land notified for the development of SEZs, actual operations took place in only 28,488.49 hectares or 62 per cent of the land acquired. Neither did the SEZs create employment nor did it lead to manufacturing or industrial growth. And remember there was no environment clearance hurdle nor was there any social impact assessment required. Moreover, with all kinds of tax holidays, estimated to be in tune of Rs 1.75 lakh crore, the SEZs failed to perform. In a scathing comment, CAG says “Acquisition of land from the public by the government is proving to be a major transfer of wealth from the rural populace to the corporate world.”

I don’t think the government even knows how much of land already acquired is lying vacant. An investigation by a TV channel found that nearly 45 per cent land acquired in just five States is lying unused. In Orissa, for example, 3799 acres acquired for TISCO steel plant in Gopalpur in 1995 has still not been used. 
In any case, the government is eyeing 17 lakh acres of surplus land lying with public sector undertakings. With so much of land already available, I don’t see any reason why the available surplus land is not first put to proper use.

Further, the argument that the 2013 law needed to be changed since the Chief Ministers wrote against it is simply amusing. Let us not forget that the Chief Ministers of the coal mining States also opposed open auction of the coal blocks. But after a Supreme Court order cancelled 204 coal blocks, the auctions that are underway are likely to bring in revenue of Rs 15-lakh- crore. I wonder why in a market economy, where free enterprise is being promoted, the private sector can’t be asked to bid for land in open auctions taking the prevailing market price as the base price.

A study by IIT Roorkee estimates that in past 50 years some 50 million people have been displaced by ‘development projects’. With the oustees of Bhakra dam and Pong dam still not rehabilitated, land conflicts have erupted primarily because the government forcibly takes over land for the private entities in the name of ‘public purpose’. As several CAG reports have found out that the land acquired has finally gone into the hands of real estate firms who have made fortunes.

In 2013-14, a study by Washington-based Rights and Resources initiative found 252 conflicts over land acquisition. A Newsweek article sometimes back had pointed to 75,000 land conflicts, most of them bloody, in China every year. A recent report states that 28 lakh villagers have committed suicide in China in past 10 years. About 80 per cent of them did so because of forcible land takeover. Lawmakers in India therefore need to be doubly concerned about the resulting socio-economic unrest.

Actually, the commodification of land is part of a global design. Globally, an area equivalent to the cultivable area of China and India has already been acquired by private capital. For India, it was in 1996 that the World Bank had asked to move 40-crore people – twice the combined population of UK, France and Germany – from the rural to the urban areas in next 20 years, by 2015. In 2008, the World Development Report of the World Bank had asked India to hasten the demographic shift by going in for land rentals. It is primarily for this reason that agriculture is deliberately being starved of resources, and farmers’ income is being kept low to force them to abandon farming and migrate.

Pitting agriculture against industrial development is a faulty debate. At a time when jobless growth is the norm anywhere and everywhere, industry cannot absorb even a fraction of the growing workforce. In past 10 years, between 2004 and 2014, only 1.5 crore jobs were created despite a high growth rate. Encouraging entrepreneurship in the rural areas and providing land to the landless is therefore the only sensible way to revitalize the economy. If the drought-prone village of Hibre Bazaar in Maharashtra can now boast of 60 lakhpatis, I see no reason why it can’t be the norm in the rest of the country. #

1 comment:

A Cncerned Citizen said...

Very well summed up the ground reality.