THE land acquisition policy announced by Chief Minister Mayawati is grossly inadequate. Land to be acquired has been placed in three categories. In the first category are government infrastructure works such as canals and roads. Land acquisition for these projects will continue as previously. The second category is of developments authorities which prepare master plan for planned development. Previous land acquisition policy will continue to be applicable here also with the additional provision that 16 per cent of the developed land will be given free to those whose land has been acquired. The third category is for private commercial purposes by private developers. These private players will have to buy at least 70 per cent of the land from the farmers directly. The remaining 30 per cent may be acquired by the government. This policy is an improvement but needs further strengthening.
Present day land acquisition has become cruel. The fundamental principle of land acquisition is quite sound. It says that private interest must be sacrificed to secure the interest of larger people. On this issue Chanakya had suggested to the king to ‘give up one for the family, family for the village and village for the country.’ Fifty years ago land of the zamindars was acquired for distribution to the farmers and the landless. Few large landowners were dispossessed for providing relief to thousands. This was in accordance with Chanakya’s principle. In the present case, however, large number of landowners are being displaced to provide benefits to few companies. Chanakya has been turned on his head. Land acquisition for making Special Economic Zones and for hydropower projects dispossesses many for providing benefits to few. Lacs of poor farmers have been displaced in the Tehri project but the water that is stored is being supplied to the rich of Delhi to wash their cars and electricity to run air-conditioners in the malls.
The present land acquisition law allows the government to forcibly acquire land of any person for any ‘public purpose.’ The public purpose in question is to be wholly defined by the government. If 10,000 farmers are dispossessed to provide land for a software company that provides jobs to 1,000 white-collar workers, the Government can yet say this is a public purpose. The courts have refused to adjudicate whether the purpose is ‘public’ or ‘private.’ It is the solemn responsibility of the courts to intervene where land acquisition is being made for private gain.
Land acquisition must be restricted only for ‘public use’ instead of ‘public purpose.’ Land that is required for making the Yamuna Expressway may be acquired but no more. Land should not be acquired around the Expressway for making commercial estates even though making of such estates may also benefit the society in some ways. Likewise, land should not be acquired for Tata’s car factory at Singur. The factory is not ‘public use’ even though it may have a public purpose. Such definition will settle most disputes regarding land acquisition.
The Land Acquisition Act should also be made more stringent. Following compensations have to be paid for land acquired in Japan: (1) Money sufficient to buy similar land elsewhere; (2) Expenses incurred in shifting and resettling at the new location including loss of profit in the shifting; (3) Share of the future increases in price of acquired land; (4) Increase in the price of land due to making of the project; (5) Expenses incurred in finding the new location. It is difficult and expensive to acquire land in Japan due to these provisions. Most land is purchased by mutual negotiation. Often the project is redesigned to reduce the need for land. For example, land was acquired for making of the Narita Airport in the seventies. The airport was to commence operations in 1971. It could begin only in 1978 due to problems of land acquisition. Later need arose to expand the airport. At that time the government found it better to make a new Kansai Airport on the Osaka Bay instead of expanding the Narita Airport. Such redesigning of projects can also be done in India. But project proponents want the government to acquire more land than needed because land is acquired at rates much below those prevailing in the market. Land acquisition is equally difficult in Israel. More importantly, the economic development of Japan or Israel has not suffered because of these stringent laws. Reason is that additional profits from the projects have accrued to the people instead of the companies. Yamuna Expressway will help in securing economic development. Question is who gets the benefits—the farmers or the company? In the Japan model, minimum land will be acquired and more benefits will accrue to the people. In the India model, more people will be dispossessed and benefits will accrue to the company. Impact on the economy will be the same. Therefore, provision of larger benefits under the Land Acquisition laws will not hamper economic growth. Actually, that will help spread the benefits of growth over larger number of people.
The policy announced by Mayawati has adopted the Japan model only very partially. Farmers will get a share of increase in value of the acquired land via 16 per cent free land. They will also get annuity for the next 33 years. But land acquisition will continue for government works and development authorities. There is a need to modify this as well. If farmers are not willing to part with their land then the government must redesign the project as was done for the Narita Airport in Japan.
All land acquisition should be undertaken through the negotiation or market process. The fundamental question is that of price of land. Administrative determination has many pitfalls. It is hugely amenable to misuse. Economists believe, and rightly so, that the market is the best adjudicator of price. Companies are unwilling to negotiate directly and they invoke the Land Acquisition Act because it is cheaper. Second, the compensation package should be strengthened along the lines of that of Japan. If the projects are truly beneficial for the economy, then there should be no difficulty in transferring a good share of the benefits to those whose land is being forcibly acquired. Third,land acquisition should be done for balance 10 per cent of land for commercial projects only if 90 per cent of the land has been acquired through negotiation