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Land Acquisition:OVERHAUL ENTIRE POLICY , by Shivaji Sarkar, 14 May, 2011 Print E-mail

Economic Highlights

New Delhi, 14 May 2011

Land Acquisition


By Shivaji Sarkar

Communists have been feared not for their ideology but for the popular belief that they would dispossess the people of all of their land. Well, there rule is no more. But the State, supposedly a welfare one, has been functioning like an agent of the rich corporate and has started acquiring prime farm lands.

Today Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee has come to power in West Bengal exploiting these sentiments both in Singur and Nandigram. However, there is no one to protect the rights of villagers in a non-descript Bhatta Parsaul in Noida in Uttar Pradesh, 50 km from Delhi. But, the village has shaken the country with its resolve to fight against forcible acquisition of land from its farmers.

Another battle may soon begin in neighbouring Saadapur in Ghaziabad, where farmers have tilled 12,500 square acres of land acquired by the Ghaziabad Development Authority. The moot question is: Is there something wrong in the Land Acquisition Act 1894? Perhaps, a lot. But so is the case with the proposed draft bill to amend this law. Undoubtedly, no law is supposed to be perfect and a lot depends upon how it is implemented.

The battlefield appears to be spreading. In Orissa, Posco and Kalinganagar have already begun it. In Chhattisgarh and other States a dozen power plants would require almost 2 lakh acres of land, which is likely to dispossess about 1.25 lakh farmers of their resources of livelihood. Many special economic zones (SEZs) are also likely to put a similar kind of demand.

Apart from the serious concern on what would happen to the dwindling area for agriculture, one does need to take hard look at the plight of the farmers. They are forced to sell their land for a pittance, which in turn is resold by the so-called ‘developers’ at exorbitant prices. At the end, the farmers suffer a double deprivation – losing their livelihood and land for prices that are far from being remunerative.

A point in case is the ongoing agitation of the farmers in UP. The Mayawati Government pays the farmers a compensation of Rs 850 per sq metre, whereas it is sold to private parties at Rs 28,000 to 30,000 per sq meter, explains Congress MP Jagadambika Pal. And this is precisely what the farmers at Bhatta Parsaul are fighting for. As against this, Haryana offers a floor rate of Rs 12 to 30 lakh and Bihar takes the highest of last three years as a base and adds another 50 per cent to decide the floor rate.

Clearly, this provides huge sum of money to the farmers who may have been leading a comfortable life but did not have large amount of cash in their hands. However, they eventually suffer at the social level. The rates, even when low compared to their resale prices fetch each land holding huge sums of money. This becomes a bane. Not used to handling such huge funds, the families often squander the money away on small luxuries like buying big cars, big houses and other frills in areas around Noida, Greater Noida and elsewhere in western UP. Lately, during marriages use of helicopter appears to have become almost a fashion and in one such case, the groom was even presented with a copter!

This opulence has cost the farmers dearly. In many cases, the money that they get vanishes soon, whereas their lifestyle cost increases manifold. The comforts become unaffordable, which eventually leads to a complex problem for the youth. Easy money leads them astray.

As funds start drying up quickly for many, the youth take to crime – lootings, robbery, kidnappings and even murder. This phenomenon is seen in the villages of Delhi and around the National Capital Region (NCR), which now have become the highest crime-infested areas. Sadly, in UP the books do not show this trend as the police do not register cases.

Insofar as the Land Acquisition Act 1894 is concerned, it allows the Government to acquire any land for “public cause”. And, the provisions are clearly vague. Farm land is acquired to put up industries and is sold to private firms in the name of development. The land which is barren or has not been tilled for over eight years or so can be acquired and compensation is given to the land owner.

Scandalously, the land given in the name of development or for building houses etc is fertile and has rich soil. But the greed and the politician-builder nexus camouflages this. The land acquired for 800 per sq foot is sold for hundred times more its price, with the finished structure fetching even more, by the developers in the open market. As against this the poor farmers get a pittance and end up becoming unskilled labourers.

In this background, the law now is proposed to be amended allowing private companies to acquire 70 per cent of the land for their requirement and the rest 30 per cent to be acquired by the Government. However, it has no provision to prevent arm-twisting. Ironically, the 1894 law has the provision to at least protect the land holders. Unless a decision is taken by the Government, the process of acquisition cannot begin. The new law has virtually done away with this.  

Yet another protection is being done away with it. The Greater Noida Authority is out to have direct dealings with farmers to buy 156.9 hectare land in Saberi village so that builders could construct flats. Fortunately, the deal was stayed by Allahabad High Court, but now it is being said that deals for the fertile land is being done with “mutual consent”. This methodology has reportedly been suggested to the Authority by legal advisers of the building companies!

Sadly, there are lobbies of some economists who do not see any harm in such deals as “it brings in investment”. But they are silent about the deals of the past, where industries or projects have either closed down or simply failed. Worse, the land does not go back to the tiller. In addition, it is not used for other industrial activities as the cost becomes too high.

All in all, land in the entire country is today being held by the big corporates. They are emerging as the largest zamindars. Therefore, the entire issue is not just a case of enacting or amending laws, but is one which affects the social fabric and has a terrible cost on food security.

It is time that there be a total relook of the policy of land acquisition. Clearly, the land belongs to the society and not the few rich corporate. Thus, ownership must be vested in the society, farmlands be protected for feeding future generations and the State be halted from playing a role to benefit the rich. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliancea0


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