People Vs. Govt in Land Conflicts

Projects in the name of development are causing displacement, loss of livelihood and frustration across India.

As the nation strives to become industrially and agriculturally advanced, developmental projects such as building dams and setting up power plants are at the forefront of the government’s agenda. Projects of this scale require large amounts of land, usually land that is already inhabited by people. These projects are carried out in rural areas, and thus directly affect agricultural land. With 52% of India’s total population employed in the agricultural sector, and nearly all of the population relying on it for their day-to-day meals, careless acquisition of this land has repeatedly had harmful consequences in the past.

It is estimated that over 10 crores of people have been displaced all over India due to developmental projects since independence, and only 20% of those have received any resettlement and rehabilitation benefits. In India, the place where one lives is considered sacred, and it is very common to find that a family has lived in the same house for many generations. The land acquisition act promises adequate compensation to those affected in these processes. However, although the emotional damage caused can hardly be compensated, economic compensation is almost always less than adequate. The government is known to use corrupt tactics and buy land at rates much below the current market rate, leaving the previous inhabitants poverty stricken and helpless.  The farmers of Gorakhpur village in Haryana are facing the threat of having their land seized by the government after it was falsely registered as infertile. Community correspondent Satyawan Verma reported that in order to build a nuclear power plant in the vicinity, the government had its eye on 1500 acres of fertile land.

Forceful land grabbing by the government is a common sight all over India. In the Tamenglong district of Manipur, the construction of a railway line has created discontent among its people. Our Community Correspondent Achungmei Kamei reported that though the Manipuri people were not against the building of proper infrastructure, their concerns had not been considered by the government, and thus their land had been taken away from them without any choice.

In another railway development plan, Varsha Jawalgekar filmed 450 households of the village of Jalalpur, Bihar as they decided to fight for their rights, filing complaints against the scheme with the town, district and state offices. This time, the High Court responded, and passed an order that the villagers be resettled within four months of filing the complaint.

It is important to note that rural India is affected much more than urban India from the adverse effect of land acquisition, and within rural India, it is the tribals and Dalits that are the most vulnerable. Being the minorities in the country, they do not have adequate social and economic power to voice their needs, and without a voice, their land is forcefully snatched from them. Although they are promised economic compensation, jobs in the new projects and proper rehabilitation, they are often denied whatever little they expect from the government.  In the Allahabad district of Uttar Pradesh, our Community Correspondent Ajeet Bahadur reported the forceful acquisition of land belonging to dalits by the government and the private power company, JayPee. This would adversely affect the lives of 50,000 people, but their concerns were not taken account by the government.

‘Public purposes’ that the government may acquire private land for (as described by the Land Acquisition Act of 1894) include the building of educational institutions, housing facilities, and rural planning, projects that have a direct and productive effect on the lives of the those living in those areas. In the past decade, the government has increasingly been found to buy land at less than market price value, and then sell it to private companies for exorbitant amounts. These private companies run on the basis of making profit, and thus all their activities are carefully planned so as to wring the fruits of the local people’s work, giving back to them as little as they can afford to do so.

The Land Acquisition Act of 1894 has had various amendments since independence. Its ineffectiveness, though, can be easily diagnosed when one sees the state of the millions that have been displaced over the years and still suffering. The new Land Acquisition Bill tabled in the parliament this monsoon session may give one the impression that the UPA Government is giving importance to land acquisition issues, but in its hurry to pass the bill, it has not taken into account issues raised by people’s movements, especially the most significant one of resettlement and rehabilitation of those displaced in past, current and future developmental projects. This shall only prove to encourage land conflicts in the nation, deepening the gaping hole standing between the people and their government.

– Rajyashri Goody

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