Land Acquisition in India – fallacy


Oscar Wilde once said – “I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.”

Over the past year, we have been exposed to countless arguments and counter arguments on one of the most fundamentally important piece of legislation that may affect everyone of us anytime – the right to own land the power of the Government to take it away. In other words, “the right to private property.” Come this week, we in India may see an ordinance being rubber stamped by the President for a record fourth time (or a bill passed). This issue is simply not a question of numbers, which the government has and can pass a law. The issue here is more fundamental in nature, requires questions tangential in nature than the ones we are being subjected to listen and read.

First things first. Does the Government have any moral (forget legal) right to takeover a private property, in this case, a private land? Simply put, YES. There is no question about it.

If the Government has the moral right, then what is the fuss all about? Are all dissents nonsensical or purely political? Is there an iota of substance in making a case against the now-thrice-in-force-ordinance?

In historical perspective, the Government’s right to take the land from a private party is justified under what is called as Eminent Domain. But this generally gives the government the right to acquire (purchase, expropriate) private land for the public use. So far, so good. Who can question this, right?

Now, under what circumstances, can the government acquire (snatch sounded prejudiced) our land? Under what circumstances will we forgo the property? For Public Use. That means the acquisition of land by the government has to be for public good. Roads, railways, bridges, irrigation canals, public hospitals, defence establishments etc.

Right to Deny a Sale

Can the government use the same moral authority to acquire land and resell it for private profit?

Arguments for this action are many.

  1. Makes it easier for Industry
  2. Powers the growth
  3. Fasten the speed of poverty eradication
  4. Generate more jobs than farming sector
  5. More industrialization
  6. We need this to catapult Indian economy to double digit growth
  7. And more seemingly and presumed logical arguments.

Consider this statement by a businessman few years back.

“If you settle with the farmers directly, you have to pay the price they ask, but if you go through the government, the farmers will have to surrender to the government’s evaluation of their land. It is a hassle-free route.”

What is the operative word in this statement? Surrender. That’s precisely what is expected of farmers and landowners. This is not a made up statement and can be verified in the link below.

Why should someone surrender hard earned or in many cases inherited land which maybe the single source of income for a family? The chorus from business community was, is and will be ‘growth,’ ‘employment’ and ‘better life.’ What if I choose to live in my own land and till my own land for a pittance with which I am happy? Should I forgo my exploitation (usage) of the land I own for a private profit? There has to be a distinction made between what is public and what is private. Justifications that we see around for the proposed amendments mix these two and confuse people who are necessarily not well informed.

Does anyone in their sane mind think that private educational institutions, private hospitals and hotels form public property? Under these proposed amendments, all the above are left open for a very broad interpretation. Amendments proposed by this Government don’t classify the need of an acquisition and hence opens the way for a very draconian, subjective and arbitrary acquisition by the state.

So, whenever someone says that this law will help infrastructure, just shake your head and retort that we are all for public good.

Land Acquisition and Socialism

There is an inherent irony and hypocrisy behind this.

Why should free market champions (read Confederation of Indian Industry, Narayanmurthy, Kiran Shaw et al) support Government Intervention on such a crucial domain? Doesn’t free market economy mean allowing the market forces to act in its own wisdom and the belief in what a famous economist called as “invisible hand?”

In the last few years, all ailments of this country have been attributed to economic model adopted by Pandit Nehru. In present popular culture and half-baked, half-read and abuse ridden world of Internet, this (quasi) socialistic model of economy where state played a major role is considered to be the prime cause.

The economic liberalization and free market economy are supposed to bring prosperity and sure it has, including this author. But why do we need state’s role in acquiring land for private enterprise. This is not the first time this has been done. Recall how many such lands have been allotted in the name of Special Economic Zones and others to many IT players and other industries at a rate, which for sure is subsidized?

Why do people whom loath and bemoan at government intervention at any stage want the government to do the heavy lifting in land acquisition?

The private enterprise is supposed to be efficient. The bureaucracy, in many people’s mind and words is ‘corrupt, stumbling block and holds back growth.’ If all these are true, why bring in an inefficient and corrupt system to do the work, which the private enterprise can do it efficiently and transparently?

Does anyone object this law to be used on an arid land or semi-arid land? No. The bone of contention is when a land, which is a 2 or 3 crop a year land is sought to be acquired under this law. People from rural background will appreciate that the small piece of land is the only source of income for many families. Additionally, why should fertile lands be converted to industries when industries can be setup elsewhere?

In rural and semi-urban places, taking away a land from a person is taking away his livelihood. This is again countered by the amount of compensation paid. Just that we are clear – a land outlives its tiller. It lasts for generations, if not forever. If a person has his land, he has a job, can feed his family and maybe, just maybe can save a little, provided monsoons don’t fail and government provides a good minimum support price for the produce. This will last for a very long time. Consider the claim of five times or six times the market value compensation that is paid by land acquisition. How many years will that money be sufficient for a family to feed and grow?

Are we going to surrender our food security for growth? Are we going to take away long-term livelihood of farmers for short-term gain on industrial front? Let us be clear. For farming community, land equals livelihood.

Considering all these, do free market champions believe in government intervention?

Scare mongering

Some people may ask what the solution is. Scaremongers go on like this.

How do we achieve growth with all these hurdles? How do we achieve growth when China can build townships by displacing its people and thus being business friendly? How can we be in the business when land acquisition is tougher? Why should we negotiate with hundreds of farmers? Industries may pull out investment and move elsewhere where there is a business friendly (read cheap, subsidized elite) government.

The answer to this is like performance evaluation – it is harder and be creative to overcome challenges.

In short, life is tough. Deal with it.

More to follow.

1 thought on “Land Acquisition in India – fallacy

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