In­dia’s land con­flicts will per­sist: Ex­pert

‘Ac­qui­si­tions must be more in­clu­sive’

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

Con­flicts over land in In­dia will per­sist un­til the govern­ment’s pol­icy on land ac­qui­si­tions for in­dus­trial use is made more in­clu­sive to ben­e­fit vil­lagers and farm­ers who have to give up their land, said an ex­pert who has stud­ied re­cent clashes.

Stand­offs be­tween the state and farm­ers have risen in In­dia as de­mand for land in­creases, af­fect­ing mil­lions of peo­ple and jeop­ar­diz­ing bil­lions of dol­lars of in­vest­ment. While a 2013 land ac­qui­si­tion law was aimed at pro­tect­ing the rights of farm­ers, some key pro­vi­sions have been di­luted in sev­eral states. Of­fi­cials say this is es­sen­tial to ease ac­qui­si­tions for faster eco­nomic growth.

“Dis­pos­ses­sion is seen as nec­es­sary for de­vel­op­ment,” said Michael Le­vien, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at Johns Hopkins Univer­sity in Bal­ti­more and ex­pert on land ac­qui­si­tion in In­dia. “But in re­al­ity, it’s a very ex­clu­sion­ary growth model that of­fers farm­ers very lit­tle; the state is merely a land bro­ker for pri­vate in­vest­ment. There is no de­vel­op­ment in this model.”

About 65 mil­lion peo­ple were dis­placed in In­dia by dams, high­ways, mines, power plants and air­ports be­tween 1950 and 2005, ac­cord­ing to the Geneva-based In­ter­nal Dis­place­ment Mon­i­tor­ing Cen­tre.

Af­ter in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tish rule, In­dia launched mas­sive state-led in­dus­trial and in­fra­struc­ture projects such as dams, steel plants and min­ing that re­quired vast tracts of land. The com­pen­sa­tion was low and there was of­ten lit­tle by way of re­set­tle­ment, but there were fewer protests be­cause the projects were seen to be for pub­lic good. Fol­low­ing the lib­er­al­iza­tion of the econ­omy in 1991, land ac­qui­si­tions were largely for the pri­vate sec­tor. These have trig­gered more protests as the projects are seen to ben­e­fit few.

At the same time, in­creased mech­a­niza­tion is tak­ing away some man­ual la­bor, while a lack of train­ing of farm­ers and farm work­ers for al­ter­nate jobs is leav­ing them with few liveli­hood op­tions. “Peo­ple lose their farm in­comes, their live­stock, face wa­ter short­ages and ill health, and the few jobs they may get do not last very long,” said Le­vien, whose up­com­ing book ex­am­ines the ef­fects of land ac­qui­si­tion on some vil­lages in Ra­jasthan state.

“The vil­lage econ­omy is usu­ally dec­i­mated. How is this a sus­tain­able model when there is no con­sid­er­a­tion for un­even de­vel­op­ment or so­cial in­equal­ity?” More than 60 per­cent of In­dia’s pop­u­la­tion of 1.3 bil­lion de­pends on agri­cul­ture for its liveli­hood.

The 2013 law re­quires con­sen­sus to buy land, a so­cial im­pact as­sess­ment, re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion for those dis­placed, and com­pen­sa­tion up to four times the mar­ket value. But states’ abil­ity to by­pass some of these re­quire­ments is dis­man­tling vi­tal checks and bal­ances and leav­ing farm­ers vul­ner­a­ble to co­er­cion, Le­vien said. There are more than 400 land-re­lated con­flicts rag­ing across In­dia cur­rently, af­fect­ing more than 6 mil­lion peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to Land Con­flict Watch, which maps land con­flicts in In­dia.

The protests will only in­crease un­less the govern­ment en­sures a more in­clu­sive ap­proach, said Le­vien. “The land wars are not go­ing to go away,” he told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion. “The protests are not only more ubiq­ui­tous, they are more ef­fec­tive; not be­cause they are bet­ter or­ga­nized, but be­cause this model is be­com­ing harder to jus­tify.” — Reuters

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