On Land Acquisition: A Very Informative Article Of A Sane Voice

In an article on the edit page of The Times of India of today, Arghya Sengupta details the real issues at stake in the debate on Land Acquisition. This is a rare article in mainstream Indian media, where an adult is approaching the issue as adults do: a non-emotional, logical analysis. The article must be read in full to gain a definitive knowledge of the whole issue, which otherwise is not possible because of the childish mass chest beating that is going on on the issue in the country.

 

“This assertion concerns clauses that require consent of 70% of affected families in PPP projects and 80% of affected families in private projects prior to acquisition and a mandatory social impact assessment (SIA) of all acquisitions. These clauses, present in the Act, have been exempted from applying to five types of projects in the ordinance.

The rationale for providing for consent was to give the citizenry a say in how the state would deal with their land. As a statement of principle, this is difficult to dispute. However, when the letter of the law is at such variance with the principle, the inference that consent was used to capture a moral high ground with little attention to actual benefits to farmers on the ground is inescapable.

As an illustration, according to Section 2(2) of the Act, consent will have to be sought simultaneously with the SIA process. But whom will consent be sought from? At the stage of conducting SIA, it is neither clear who owns the land, nor whose livelihoods depend on it. Seeking consent without having conclusively identified whom to seek consent from is an inexplicable instance of putting the cart before the horse.

Equally importantly, the incorporation of consent suffers from a fundamental conceptual confusion. If as a polity we have taken a decision that the power of eminent domain is necessary in certain instances, as is evident from both the Act and the ordinance, it implies that we have assented to a core feature of its exercise – the involuntary nature of acquisition.

While the involuntariness of the acquisition must be mitigated by setting certain minimum requirements for compensation and rehabilitation, as both the Act and the ordinance do, to flip the concept on its head entirely, incorporate consent and still call it an instance of ‘acquisition’ demonstrates befuddled thinking. If a transfer of land is wholly consensual, it is a purchase; if it is compulsory, it is an acquisition. There is no halfway house between the two.

Several other provisions in the Act similarly protect farmers’ interests symbolically and not substantively. But this is the wrong lens to be viewing a land acquisition law through. Farmers’ interests are only one, albeit significant, part of designing a workable land acquisition legislation. Since there is a larger social consensus that acquisition for public purpose projects by government and the private sector is necessary, then the law reflecting such consensus must optimally protect the interests of all stakeholders – farmers, other land-losers, industry and government itself.

It is in everybody’s interest that a workable process of land acquisition is established. This will undoubtedly involve tradeoffs, some which will benefit farmers, some of which won’t. To assess each tradeoff solely from the perspective of the farmer, as the public discourse is currently doing, is bound to lead to a misguided assessment of issues. Instead, the key question that ought to be debated now is this: How do we establish an efficient, fair and workable process of land acquisition?” (from the article)

Read the whole article here.