Displacement in the name of development

Gunratna Sontakke
Saturday, 31 March 2018

Land acquisition for various development works is a common practice in most parts of the country. Recently, this phenomenon has picked up pace, boosting the national growth. A notable example of the land acquisition exercise is of farm lands for creation of special economic zones and mega highways.

Land acquisition for various development works is a common practice in most parts of the country. Recently, this phenomenon has picked up pace, boosting the national growth. A notable example of the land acquisition exercise is of farm lands for creation of special economic zones and mega highways.

The procedures involved in the acquisition of land and its development are, however, widely criticised by land developers, social activists and the local population, many of whom are adversely affected in numerous ways. Furthermore, the government realises that acquisition of land is a major impediment to the country’s development.

Tribals and farmers in rural areas bear the brunt of land acquisition for developmental projects, which completely disrupts their lives. They get displaced from their own land and without the guarantee of fair compensation and rehabilitation in a certain time period. These so called ‘developmental’ activities, which do not confer any direct benefit to tribals, merely leave them landless and without means for survival. Monetary benefits do not really count when the lifestyle for generations is changed irreparably.

Land alienation of tribals by powerful entities has become a common phenomena. It is most unfortunate that ‘the freedom to live in their own traditional ways’, as guaranteed by the Constitution, is flouted by those who understand the Constitution better. Land acquisition isn’t a problem because farmers and tribals are against development. They are reluctant to part with their land because that is their only source of livelihood and social security. The alternative proposes to take that away with little in return.

Displacement & rehabilitation
Development-induced displacement has been historically associated with the construction of dams for hydroelectric power and irrigation, but also appears due to many other activities, such as mining and the creation of military installations, airports, industrial plants, weapon testing grounds, railways, road developments, urbanisation, conservation projects, etc. According to many specialists (e.g. Bogumil Terminski, 2012), at least 15 million people each year are forced to leave their homes following big development projects (dams, irrigation projects, highways, urbanisation, mining, conservation of nature, etc.).

According to some reports in media, people whose land has been acquired for the Mumbai-Nagpur Expressway project opined that the government should go by the book and use the Land Acquisition Law, 2013. The government should promise them jobs, hold public hearings for the project and listen to their objections. The government has promised them compensation as per the 2013 law, but acquisition was being done under the 1955 law. How does one believe such a government?

In Maharashtra, the Prosperity Corridor project will acquire nearly 50,000 acres across 10 districts for the proposed highway and the 24 smart cities or agro-prosperity hubs planned along the alignment. Nearly 84 per cent of this land is agricultural. The project is being showcased as a game changer by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis; a highway that can link the backward areas of Vidarbha and Marathwada to developed regions and markets of Thane and Mumbai. But, farmers who will lose land have opposed the project, questioning the nature of acquisition, the credibility of the government and the planning of the project.

The latest Agriculture Census of India (2010-11) reported that more than 80 per cent of farmers have an average land holding size of less than one acre. Combined with weather and market risks, a majority of these small and marginal farmers are left in a perpetual state of distress. Government projects that can generate employment, provide compensation and rehabilitation through employment opportunities (the Amendment Bill assures one job per family) will ameliorate the situation of small and marginal farmers.

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