Land Acquisition Bill- Misgivings Justified
By Syed Ali Mujtaba
03 April, 2015
There is the fundamental question as to whether taking away the agricultural land for setting up industry or housing projects is appropriate for the country. India is predominantly an agriculture oriented economy. In a densely populated country like ours agriculture provide jobs to millions of people at unskilled and semi skilled level.
More than 75% of country’s population constitutes of peasants and tribals, who have only traditional skill in agricultural operations.
It is reported that in the last few decades, around 2% of agricultural land in the country have already been lost to industrial, housing and other projects. This has left thousands of agricultural laborers in difficult economic conditions, needing freebies from government to survive.
Modi government appears to think that industrial activity is as important as agricultural activity and converting some agricultural land for industrial projects is inevitable. He thinks, if the country has to sustain economic growth to the desired level the industrial growth is more important than agricultural growth.
Government further argues that it has put several safeguards to ensure that land acquisition would be only for appropriate projects and will not result in undue benefit for corporate houses.
There was huge protest against the land acquisition bill which made the government relent realizing the mood of the country. The government made modifications to the land acquisition bill. It conferred on state governments’ adequate power to decide on grant of exemption for certain kinds of land acquisition. The state government has to make assessment about the provisions relating to social impact of the land acquisition 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 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 has been dropped.
The question is whether Modi government has exhausted all the options for identifying the available unutilized land for industrial and development projects , that can avoid taking away the 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 presently occupied by many industries, where only a portion of the land is utilized and other land remains unused.
There are many sick projects which have been remaining closed with hundreds of acres of land that are not presently put to any use.
There are many educational institutions with hundreds of acres of land, where only a few acres are utilized. There is 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 gets much more land than what they need, only considering the appreciation of the land value in course of time.
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 of land should be allotted for particular industrial project.
Among the existing industries and in special economic zones, the government should conduct a land auditing to identify the unused land and force the industries to give up such land for setting up new projects. This is possible.
The genuine question is why agricultural land should be taken away without putting the unutilized and wasted land for use for setting up industrial projects. 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 complimentary to the agricultural growth and it cannot be allowed to become a substitute for agricultural growth even to a limited extent.
Such move is bad in principle and contrary to the sentiments of large section of the countrymen. Above all, the potentials for exploiting agricultural operations for India’s economic growth with equanimity is no less than what industrial operations can achieve for the country.
Modi government’s determined move to enact the Land Acquisition Bill has caused considerable misgivings in the country, for which there appear to be justifiable reasons.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at email@example.com
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