Farmers’ Livelihood Needs To Be Assured
The long pending draft of the amendment to the land Acquisition Act of 1874 has been made public. But it falls far short of expectation of the people in general, and the farmers and land owners in particular, because the National Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Bill fails to address adequately the major issues which concern the farmers and their livelihood.
Compensation should be better
The draft has covered compensation but there is a rider which states that these provisions will apply only when (a) the government acquires the land partly or wholly for a public or private project and (b) if a private party acquires 100 or more on its own. However, when the private party buys the entire project land and the plot is less than 100 acres these provisions do not apply. This means the rider will harm the farmers as they will not get compensation if the land is 80 acre or 99 acre. Even at present the private parties are paying compensation for whatever quantum of land they are acquiring. In Bengal, land holding of the farmers is small, as small as 5 acres per family and for land of say 50 acres there would be 10 farmers and their family. Will they survive without compensation and resettlement?
Compensation for urban areas will be twice the market value of land and for rural areas not less than six times of the market value. However, in reality the value of land in urban areas enhances dramatically when land is acquired for industry. As in the case of Singur land, it had gone up by four to five times. This anticipated rise in price of land on account of impact of development has not been given due recognition in the proposed draft though had been recommended by the well-known economists like Amartya Sen and Pranab Bardhan. According to land experts, in view of spiraling land prices, the compensation should be four times of the prevailing land price for 100 to 500 acre land, and three times of the present land price, for more than 500 acres.
All the affected families whose livelihood is dependant on the particular land would be provided with a job or a one-time compensation of Rs 2 lakh. It is not clear how the rural ministry arrived at this figure? Has it been suggested by the National Advisory Council which worked out arbitrary figures for compensation? Because considering a farmer’s monthly expenses to be Rs 3,000 per month (based on rural data), Rs 2 lakh allows him to survive for nearly six-seven years only. How will the farmer and his family survive after that?
At the same time, the industrialists are likely to make 100 per cent or more profit from their industrial project after the initial three years gestation period from the date of production, and if the factory runs well, the promoters will make a profit of a few crore of rupees annually. Thus, the act should include a better compensation package and this will enable the farmers to improve their living standard; access to education and health care for their children.
Public Purpose should clearly be defined
Much have been stated for and against these issues and on earlier land acquisition at Singur and in other areas of the country, common people voted against land acquisition for the private industry. The Allahabad High Court recently ordered Uttar Pradesh government to return the land to the farmers since the land acquired in the name of public purpose for developing infrastructure was actually given to the promoters to develop luxury apartments and shopping malls. In Singur, the Nano project was developed by Tata Motors, though the Calcutta High Court gave its ruling that it is a public purpose project since it will provide employment to people. This ruling is still being debated by the people and many political leaders who do not agree to the same. Here also, private industry provides employment to the work force, but the profit from the industry is siphoned off by the promoters to accrue wealth, while the state does not receive anything except taxes. Can such a private industry be defined to serve public purpose since these terms are loosely used by private promoters to acquire the large parcels of land by using these terms?
Resettlement with proper infrastructure
The draft states that if acquisition makes displacement necessary, the area where a family is resettled must have 25 kinds of infrastructure including a school, playground, health centre and a post office. Such families will also get Rs.3000 per month for a year.
But it is as clear as daylight that the existing resettlement colonies in India virtually remained without road connectivity, drainage and water supply facilities. Most of the houses are incomplete and the company that developed it, never bothered to complete; nor did they maintain it. As a result these resettlement colonies become slums. A clause must be incorporated in the draft that the resettlement colony has to be completed and displaced persons are to be accommodated in their shelters and basic amenities before the promoter can start construction at the site.
Similar problems of land acquisition were faced by Europe and America in the early 20th century. Charles Abrams, former Chairman of the City Planning Department of Columbia University and a UN mission member to developing countries stated, “The space problem arises not from shortage of land, but from lack of planning, waste of urban space from unnecessary despoliation of good environment.” Consequently advance planning of land use is very much essential. Land is a national asset, must not be exploited for wrong uses.
The revised Bill must include a clause on correct records of land ownership. Transfer of land must be up-dated regularly; otherwise it becomes difficult to identify the correct owner of the land when it comes to payment of compensation or to return the land. In case of Singur payment of compensation to the real owners was difficult. The Land Use Map, collected from remote sensing agencies should be made by the states and the area available for industry can be demarcated so that an industrialist can review the available land by clicking a mouse instead of running to the state industrial development’s office. The rural development ministry needs to consider the issue of rehabilitation and compensation seriously to improve the quality of lives of millions of farmers who toil round the year to provide us food and to ensure development with equity and justice.
By S Roy from Kolkata