Land Acquisition Act – Why is being a minority a crime?

The path to industrialisation is laden with nails and scraps, especially if you happen to oppose it.

They say that the sole reason the sub-prime crisis did not hit India is because people here treat land and homes differently than the West. A home or a piece of land is near sacred in India. People in India dream of owning a house, one day. 

What if one fine day, in the name of industrialisation, your government decides to throw you out of your dream? And ‘compensate’ you with four times the market value of your dream or two times depending upon the geography you dared to dream in. 

Now of course you can’t be thrown out of your homes or your land can be snatched away from you if you belong to the 80% of the people who agree that a factory should be set up in your area. Because that is what the Land Acquisition Bill proposes. “In case of acquisition of land for use by private companies or public private partnerships, consent of 80 per cent of the displaced people will be required,” it says. 

What we saw in Odisha with respect to the aluminium refinery of billionaire Anil Agarwal-controlled Vedanta Resources Plc is near legendary. Village after village rejected the mega-factory and chose to not part with their land and measly earnings. But this is democracy and is seen a triumph of democracy. 

But isn’t this tilted against the minority? Sure, in an election, the person with the majority votes wins but does that mean he/she works only for the people who voted for him/her and neglects the others? 

Of course not. Because the votes are secret. 

However, this Land Acquisition Bill says that if 80% of the people agree for the factory then the factory will be set up on their lands. The rest have to just agree and take the massive compensation and find solace in money. 

You might argue that the minority in this case, the 20%, shouldn’t be complaining because they are being paid wild money and the company will take care of their rehabilitation. 

But the tribes of Odisha, just recently, showed you that money isn’t everything. They believed in their sacred hill and were not ready to part with it. Even though Vedanta would have offered them money which otherwise would have taken them a hundred years to earn (metaphorically). 

Just because a majority was against Vedanta and its money this is seen a people’s win. What if only 20% felt that their land is too precious for them to part with? Wouldn’t they be labelled as anti-industrialisation? Anti-growth? Anti-India? 

Getting every land owner to agree and part their land for a factory is indeed a utopian dream which is impossible to achieve. But at least let’s not treat India as China and those 20% as a mere percentage figure. 

What we need is a policy that treats people as people and not numbers. What we need to understand is that just because a poor has land to his name and is yet finding it difficult to make ends meet, giving him a lump sum money and “rehabilitation” him is not a solution. This is not inclusive growth. Even though China enters our territory quite often, we must remember that we are not them. We are India. We are a democracy. 

It is to be noted that the above point is only for the land acquisition by the private companies. For a private-public partnership, the consent is only at 70 per cent and for the government projects no consent from the landowners is required. And this means a forcible eviction. 

For compensation to the land owners, the bill reads, “Once the market value is calculated, it is doubled for land in rural areas. There is no doubling of value in urban areas. Then, the value of all assets attached to the land (trees, buildings, etc) is added to this amount. On this amount, a 100% solatium, (i.e., extra compensation for the forcible nature of acquisition), shall be given to arrive at the final compensation figure.” 

And the government, which is by the people, for the people and of the people, doesn’t have to take consent of the 80%. Public sector companies, or the companies owned by the government is absolved from this clause. 

Just because we vote a government to power doesn’t mean that its every decision is for our good. Kudankulum and Jaitapur nuclear power plants are just two recent examples of how the people protested but the government still went ahead with its plans. 

“To ensure, in consultation with institutions of local self-government and Gram Sabhas established under the Constitution, a humane, participative, informed and transparent process for land acquisition for industrialisation, development of essential infrastructural facilities and urbanisation with the least disturbance to the owners of the land and other affected families and provide just and fair compensation to the affected families whose land has been acquired or proposed to be acquired or are affected by such acquisition and make adequate provisions for such affected persons for their rehabilitation and resettlement and for ensuring that the cumulative outcome of compulsory acquisition should be that affected persons become partners in development leading to an improvement in their post-acquisition social and economic status and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto,” reads the Land Acquisition Bill. 

You can give a candy to a kid to pacify him but very soon he will finish it and the bawling will begin again.

Shubhashish is a journalist who is now pursuing Masters in International Studies and Diplomacy in London. Email:shubhashish@msn.com

 

This column originally appeared in DNA on September 12, 2013. 

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