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Issue No.: 574 | April 2015
 

The Land Acquisition Bill Not Convincing

N. S. Venkataraman
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Government of India’s determined move to enact the Land Acquisition Bill has caused considerable misgivings in the country, for which there appear to be justifiable reasons.

There is the fundamental question as to whether taking away the agricultural land for setting up industry or housing projects is appropriate in a country like India, which is essentially an agriculture oriented economy and particularly when agriculture operations provide jobs to millions of people at unskilled and semi skilled levels. More than 75% of country’s population constitute peasants and tribals, whose only traditional skill is in agricultural operations.

It is reported that in the last few decades, around 2% of agricultural land in the country has already been lost to industrial, housing and other projects, leaving thousands of agricultural labourers in difficult economic conditions, needing freebies from government to survive.

The Government’s Stand

The government appears to think that industrial activity is as important as agricultural activity and converting some agricultural land for industrial projects is inevitable if the country were to sustain economic growth at the desired level. Government further argues that it has put several safeguards to ensure that land acquisition would be for appropriate projects only and will not result in undue benefit for corporate houses.

After much protest and realizing the mood of the country, the government has made modifications to the land acquisition bill, conferring on State governments adequate power to decide on grant of exemption for certain kinds of land acquisition from the provisions relating to social impact assessment and food security. Moreover, it  limited the acquisition of land for industrial corridors to within one km on either side of designated railway line or road and limited the extent of acquisition to the minimum requirement. Other provisions include compensation by way of government job for at least one member of the affected families. Further, the provision granting exemption for private educational institutions and hospitals had been dropped.

What About Wasted and Unutilized Land?

The question is whether the Modi government has exhausted all the options for identifying the available unutilized land for industrial and development projects, that can avoid taking away land from agricultural operations. One gets the impression that the government has not done this exercise adequately so far. 

There are thousands of acres of industrial land currently occupied by many industries, where only a portion of the land is utilized and other land remains unused. There are many sick units which have remained closed with hundreds of acres of land that are not currently being put to any use. There are many educational  institutions with hundreds of acres of land , where only a few acres are utilized. There are also land where the site is not suitable for agricultural operations. The government is not known to have enumerated such unutilized land available in the country. The government cannot say today that the country does not have such unutilized and wasted land.

The ground reality is that the promoters of many industrial projects ask for and get much more land than what they need , only considering the appreciation of the land value in course of time. The Modi government has not given any indication that it is aware of such issues and it has not announced any policy as to how much land should be allotted for particular industrial projects.

Amongst the existing industries and in special economic zones , the government should conduct a land audit to identify the unused land and force the industries to give up such land for setting up new projects. This is possible.

The relevant question is why agricultural land should be taken away without putting the unutilized and wasted land for use for setting up industrial projects. 

Investment in Agriculture can be More Productive than in Industry

Should the interest of agriculture be sacrificed for the sake of industrial growth is a very valid question. People cannot live without food but they can live without cosmetics and automobiles. 

Industrial growth should be complementary to agricultural growth and it cannot be allowed to become a substitute for agricultural growth even to a limited extent. Such a move is bad in principle and contrary to the sentiments of large sections of our people.

Above all, the potential for exploiting agricultural operations for India’s economic growth with equanimity is no less than what industrial operations can achieve for the country.

N. S. Venkataram, Trustee, Nandini Voice for the Deprived,
Chennai.
nsvenkatchennai@gmail.com, website: 
www.nandinivoice.org
 
 
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