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May 22, 2011

Page: 8/48

Home > 2011 Issues > May 22, 2011

Land Acquisition Bill
Games a corrupt Centre and brazen Mayawati play

By Aditya Pradhan

THERE are three ways to look at the land acquisition for Yamuna Expressway which has now snowballed into a full-fledged political movement. Bharatiya Janata Party leader Rajnath Singh at a press conference in New Delhi said quite succinctly that the land which is worth Rs50,000 to Rs1-lakh is being acquired from farmers at measly rates by the state government. If price is one of the issues, the forceful acquisition and the procedures with all the attendant bureaucracy tell the second story. That is also why there is a desperate need for the new Land Acquisition Bill to be passed in the Parliament.

The Congress-led UPA has been dilly-dallying on the passage of the Bill for the simple reason that it will suck out so many avenues for corruption. Developers of infrastructure and real estate now-a-days openly suggest that the government is only interested in approvals based on individual case-to-case rather than form a broad policy. A government which is all set to leave a legacy of being most corrupt in the history of the country has obviously got other plans.

According to Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry estimates, Rs4.47-trillion foreign investments have been stalled because of the foolhardiness of the Central Government when it comes to passing the Bill on land acquisition for industry and infrastructure.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s assurance to a delegation of Rashtriya Lok Dal leaders that government will move the crucial Bill to amend the Land Acquisition Act in the coming session of Parliament is actually neither here nor there. The assurances look more like lame duck measures to quell an increasing and fair demand from farmers who have owned and tilled their land for generations.

Over four people have been killed in police firing this week, and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati, is at her arrogant best, justifying the violence on basis of reports that farmers took help of anti-social elements to start the agitation.

It is easy to call the state government’s bluff on police violence just as it is easy to understand Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s sudden penchant for taking up farmers’ cause. More importantly Congress party’s pussy-footing on the issue is actually having a very adverse reaction in markets abroad, especially when the government is trying to attract foreign investments in infrastructure even through the now ubiquitous private equity route.

The lower house of the Parliament had passed the new Land Acquisition Bill on the premise that 70 per cent of the land for infrastructure or real estate development will be bought by the private corporates themselves at market price after which the 30 per cent will have to be bought over from the land owners by the government. Union railway minister Mamta Banerjee had vetoed the Bill earlier and suggested that the ratio should be 90:10. In any land acquisition process by private developers the price of land keeps going up as more and more land parcels in contiguous form is gobbled up by the developers.

The estimated cost of the 165km 6-lane Yamuna Expressway is about Rs9,739-crore and the land parcels which have been acquired for the project is about 4,100 hectares. The developer of the expressway Jaypee Infratech Ltd will have to deliver the project by June 2011. Most of the work like earthwork, culverts, bridges and underpasses has been completed by over 90 per cent, and only the interchanges and the laying of dry lean concrete and casting of pavement quality concrete are majorly left to be done.

Last year in August four people were killed in police firing which left the landowners and farmers disenchanted with the project. The state government has paid a measly sum of Rs436 per sq metre to the farmers for the land for the construction of the expressway and Rs570 for the land where the township will be developed.

What is worse is that the state police have been merciless in its drive against any protest; in Bhatta-Parasaul there is no male citizen these days as they have all been rounded up by the police and kept in custody in a brute show of force to allow the project to be completed without paying the farmers their due.

The expressway can bring down the travel time by half between New Delhi and Agra, even while bringing about immense growth potential for the regions around. But the slip between the cup and lip is over the compensation given by the government. Mayawati claims that 175 hectares of land was acquired in Bhatta for Rs120-crore and 260 hectares was bought for Rs180-crore. But the villagers are yet to see the colour of money.

Mayawati also has to go to state polls next year which should make it amply clear that farmers will have to be given a fair deal in the cow belt. The problem arose because corruption, sweet-heart deals and plain incompetence have all been put up in full display in the project. Land which was bought for Rs35-lakh per acre from the farmers has been resold in no time for Rs60-lakh by the developers.

The system of compensation for land in UP has been borrowed from the neighbouring Haryana where in addition to the one time compensation which is usually low and based on circle rates, the landowners can choose a 33-year annuity of Rs20,000 per acre which comes with small increments and additional compensation. The state government will allow the original landowners 7 per cent of acquired land for residential plots even as they are allowed to use a quarter of the one-time compensation for purchasing shares in companies which acquire land for township.

The land acquisition Act which is in implementation right now was formulated during the British Raj in 1894. The current Act allows the government to forcibly acquire land from private landholders for projects of public purpose. More often than not, governments are caught acquiring land for private firms leading to protests and agitation all over the country over displacement and compensation. But from a Central government which is known for corruption and a state government which is known for its violent streak, respite for farmers and landowners may not be coming soon.

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