How to Ac­quire Land the Right Way

The Economic Times - - Breaking Ideas -

Amonth ago, Ben­gal was rocked by vi­o­lence, protests and road block­ages in Bhangar, on the south­east­ern fringes of Kolkata. The trig­ger was pop­u­lar anger against ac­qui­si­tion of land by the Tri­namool Congress gov­ern­ment through 2012-14, for a Power Grid Cor­po­ra­tion (PGCIL) project. Re­mem­ber, chief min­is­ter Ma­mata Banerjee swept to power in 2011, op­pos­ing the then-Left Front gov­ern­ment’s at­tempts to con­vert farm land into fac­tory at Nandi­gram and Sin­gur. Faced with the need to at­tract in­vest­ment and elec­tric­ity, iron­i­cally, Banerjee faces ex­actly the same sort of protest she ini­ti­ated in her drive to power. There is no doubt now, as then, that Ben­gal needs in­vest­ment and in­fras­truc­ture. The ques­tion is how to bal­ance the needs, liveli­hoods and ex­pec­ta­tions of farm­ers with those needs. The gov­ern­ment has failed peo­ple in mul­ti­ple ways. One, in a four-crop area with fish farms, NGOs claim farm­ers were duped to give up land cheap. Two, lo­cals claim the ad­min­is­tra­tion did not tell them that a trans­mis­sion project would not gen­er­ate any ex­tra power for the re­gion but carry it else­where. Three, the ad­min­is­tra­tion has got no re­ply from PGCIL whether the SF6 gas used as a coolant for the plant, can be po­ten­tially harm­ful for the en­vi­ron­ment. Four, the fail­ure of the ad­min­is­tra­tion and PGCIL to re­spond to lo­cals’ con­cerns, cre­ated fear and mis­trust among the lat­ter. Fi­nally, when lo­cals protested, po­lice re­sponded with ar­rests and in­tim­i­da­tion; two pro­test­ers have been shot dead.

This is ex­actly the sort of land-grab that Banerjee ac­cused the Left of prac­tis­ing. It should go back to first prin­ci­ples: the only way to ac­quire land for in­vest­ment is by en­gi­neer­ing a method of mak­ing land-losers stake­hold­ers in the de­vel­op­ment built on their land.

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