MAC: Mines and Communities

Brakes on industrialisation

Published by MAC on 2006-08-23
Source: The Dainak Statesman

Brakes on industrialisation

Editor, Dainak Statesman

23rd August 2006

Just when acquisition of fertile agricultural land for setting up two big industrial plants ~ one in Singur in West Bengal and the other near Meerut in Uttar Pradesh ~ for two reputed Indian companies has kicked up a row because of stiff resistance being put up by landowners, the report of the working group on land relations set up by the Union government has "strongly recommended" that "as far as possible, fertile agricultural land should not be acquired for or by any company". "The industrial units should be located in areas where wasteland is available."

The report has deprecated the tendency of some state governments to promise both private and public enterprises land at low prices because of which farmers tend to be the net losers in the compensation they receive.

The report says that, since the land market is generally weighted against the small and marg- inal farmers, a group approach needs to be adopted so as to "enhance their barking power so that they get proper compensation and other dues."

"Farmers should be entitled to their share in rising land prices in the wake of urbanisation and any form of major investment."

The report opposes "indiscriminate, large-scale, ecologically damaging and socially harmful transfers of agricultural land for non-agricultural use to speculative land markets in the immediate periphery of urban areas."

To prevent long-term, speculative transactions on agricultural land, suitable enactment of legislation has been recommended. Large-scale transfer of land from agricultural to non-agricultural use ought to be subject to an environmental protection clause and its strict implementation.

For ensuring transparency in any land deal, the working group has laid down land acquisition processes. The company buying land must provide figures to those losing land on how the project will help them with a full package of rehabilitation and resettlement.

In case the company purchased land directly from the market, the government must fix a floor price below which farmers would not sell the land to anycompany.

If the company is unable to use all the land it has acquired, the unutilised part ought to be returned to the government for distribution to the landless.

Besides, the Land Acquisition Act needs to be amended to incorporate compensation not only for the land owners but also for those who are landless but dependent on land for livelihoods, for homes and items obtained from local, common and property resources.

In other words, landless labourers, artisans and tenants must be compensated with housing and livelihood security.

The working group was formed in March at the instance of the Prime Minister after a sudden spurt in rural violence and the growing influence of Maoist outfits, which control over 160 districts in 12 states where the normal writs of the Indian state do not run.

Dr Manmohan Singh was forced to set up the working group under Mr D Bandopadhyay, former land reforms commissioner of West Bengal as, a ccording to the Planning Comm- ission's estimate, t wenty-five per cent of the country's mainland territory was "being practically governed by extra legal and in some places illegal authorities".

The Prime Minister felt that this did not speak well of the country's governance.

According to the Planning Commission, due to dismal and tardy implementation of land ceiling laws, only 7.35 million acres of ceiling surplus land could be vested in the state up to March 2002.

Of this 5.39 million acres were distributed among 5.65 million beneficiaries. In West Bengal, over 1.3 million acres vested in the state could be distributed among 2.5 million beneficiary households.

Land holdings in the country, in the commission's view, remained skewed. There was con- siderable scope of further vesting surplus land even on the basis of existing ceiling laws, not to speak of a situation with further reduction in family ceilings.

To tackle the problem of rural unrest or what is commonly known as Naxalism or Maoism mostly in tribal-dominated areas, the group has recommended that tribals who are displaced by development projects must be resettled in a zone, adjacent to the affected area in con -sonance with their social, ecological, linguistic and economic affinity. Resettlement and rehabilitation ought to be completed prior to the project's commencement.

The package should be approved by the gram sabha in the Panchayat Extension to the Scheduled Area Act (PESA) area and by such other representative bodies in non-PESA tribal areas.

According to the PESA Act, the consent of the gram sabha is mandatory for minor and major minerals. In Orissa and Rajasthan, mining concession rules have to be modified to reflect the provision requiring consent of the gram sabha.

Also, the exact extent of land required for projects have to be reassessed by a neutral agency consisting of experts with representatives of the tribal population. The lack of transparency in the process of acquiring tribal land also needs to be addressed.

Government land encroached upon by poor tribal families have to be settled in their favour. Also, common property resources, including grazing land, village forest and water resources must [not] be acquired without providing alternative sources of equal or higher value. Efforts have to be made to ensure that all tribal families are resettled to the extent possible.

Compensation must be calculated and given on the basis of calculation of a 20-year, pros- pective income stream to tribal families for loss of customary forest rights. The group's most significant recommendation is that the state must promote the concept of a land bank wherein tribal land is purchased by the state and allotted to other deserving tribal families in the same area.

Lease of government land in tribal areas by tribals for agriculture and homestead purposes ought to be more than proportionate to the percentage share of the tribal population of the village.

To enable small farmers to participate and benefit from the land market, the group has rec- ommended a group approach to farm investment and cultivation wherever possible. Groups of poor farmers, especially women and Dalits, who are willing to work in groups, must be provided liberal assistance for acquiring land for joint activities, either in terms of collectively purchasing or collectively leasing of land in groups.

The group has opposed direct incursion into agriculture by corporate bodies or what is known as contract farming. This must be done to protect the livelihood of peasant farmers and others whose occupation are directly related to farming.

Otherwise, the report warns, it will increase the number of the rural proletariat, leading to rural unrest. Government wastelands must not be settled or let out to corporate bodies. It ought to be reserved for distribution among the landless poor and for public purposes.

The report says: "A view, however, was expressed that contract farming militates against the concept of autonomous peasant farming and therefore it should be discouraged if not banned."

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