The Dilemma of Land Acquisition

MANAGING THE INTERESTS OF CONFLICTING STAKEHOLDERS WITHIN THE NEOLIBERAL MODEL OF DEVELOPMENT

– DIVYA DUA

For a developing country like India, managing the interests of a heterogeneous population at home, whilst simultaneously accommodating the interests of the global capital was a challenge posed at the dawn of the new century. The Indian experiment with the changing processes of production and the changing nature of the factors of the production is a unique one. The most crucial factor of production, land, is a resource that is both valuable and scarce. This resource becomes the harbinger of growth and development in the economic sense of the term, but also holds deep cultural and social value in rural hinterlands of India, that are largely untouched by discourses of development. The neoliberal model of development is dependent upon the clear definition of property rights and places a great deal of importance on private property. (Harvey 2005) For development i.e. taking up of infrastructure projects, building dams and laying down of national highways, the state often has to step into the realm of private property of the individual and take it over for the larger interest of the public. This is essentially the eminent domain principle. The property taken often belongs to farmers, tribal communities or hamlets of fishermen (if the land under question is near a water source) etc. These henceforth will be referred to as the ‘marginalised landed communities’. However, the land acquisition legislations can and do impact them differently. These communities are often unwilling to give up rights to their land and move to newer pastures to pave way for developmental projects. This unwillingness is often traced back to their backwardness and lack of faith in the developmental initiatives, however, it has got far more to do with the unfair compensation packages they are offered in return for their land and less with the neoliberal model initiating the project.

It is essential to understand the conflict over land as a consequence of the inefficient management of the interests of the marginalised landed communities by the State. It probes the possible position of a developing neoliberal state in negotiating with various stakeholders, reconstructing concepts like private property rights and continuing on the path of development not necessarily set at home but abroad.

MAINSTREAM DEVELOPMENT AND DIVERGENT INTERESTS

One of the most recent successful examples of land acquisition has been in the state of Andhra Pradesh, with a mass of land being bought from farmers and other occupants alike for the ambitious capital city of Amravati. Some 33,000 acres of land have been sourced for various developmental projects without much protest, in the post-bifurcation state of Andhra Pradesh. The land has been acquired based on a land pooling system in which the farmers will get back entirely developed “residential and commercial plots ranging from 900 to 1700 square yards for every one acre (4840 square yards) of land surrendered. Farmers will further receive an annual compensation of Rs 30,000 to 50,000 per acre — with a 10% yearly increase —for a ten-year period.” (Express 2015). Under this system, the agencies of the government develop the city by laying down electricity connections and sewage lines, building roads etc. and once that is done a substantial portion of the land is returned to the original inhabitants. The new portion is smaller than the portion initially handed over by the farmer, but the justification of it lies in the provision of amenities and a subsequent rise in the value of the plot of land. The Chandrababu Naidu government managed to not only get on board investors and industrialists for starting developmental projects in Amravati but also brought on board farmers by accruing due importance to their interest and identifying them as participants in the mainstream development paradigm. Similarly, farmers in other parts of the country, such as Punjab, Maharashtra and Haryana have been willing to part with their land when offered lucrative compensatory packages from the government. (Sathe 2016)

Land acquition

The example of Amravati and others helps ascertain a fundamental idea that the resolution or minimization of conflicts around land lies in the assessment of stakeholders’ interests and a reasonable negotiation of those by the state. This can be done by exercising the eminent domain principle, but by also recognising private property rights of even the marginalised landed communities. This not only guarantees limited intervention by the neoliberal state in the market exchange but also ensures a participatory framework for the development of the neoliberal kind.

MODEL (OF DEVELOPMENT) SPECIFIC INTERPRETATION OF RULE OF LAW

Rule of law and components therein must be understood as per the state’s development model for conceptual relevance in contemporary times. In this regard, private property as a means and component of rule of law is one of the principal tenets of neo-liberalist theory. The protection of it is therefore one of the primary duties of the neoliberal state. The rule of law with a clear understanding of property rights ensures development for stakeholders across the board. The property rights of the marginalised landed communities need to be recognised and compensation packages given to them should be in tune with the market value of land.

The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (also Land Acquisition Act, 2013) is a move in this direction. One of the key provisions that the act lays down is that the consent of 80 percent landowners is required for private projects and the consent of 70% land owners is required in Public Private Partnership projects. This gives communities a chance to negotiate with the government and the industry their demands for a compensatory package. The act however exempts five categories of land use namely: (i) defence, (ii) rural infrastructure, (iii) affordable housing, (iv) industrial corridors, and (v) infrastructure projects including Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects where the government owns the land. The two provisions when read in consonance with each other reflect a protection of the state’s interest, consideration of the interests of the industry and a fair view of the concerns of the marginalised landed communities. (PRS legislative research 2015)

CONCLUSION

The model of development debate from liberal, to neoliberal, to socialist-liberal to other combinations of political colours and ideologies cannot deny the shift in the world order towards a more market-friendly view of development and societal organisation. Now, neoliberal states juggle to accommodate the interest of all sorts of classes in the developmental agenda and when they fail to do so, it leads to societal backlash and uproar. The neoliberal state, therefore, needs to ensure a better management of interests of its various stakeholders through minimalist government interventions and progressive legislations to ensure participatory development.

(Divya is pursuing Master’s Programme in Public Policy at the National Law School of India University. She can be reached at divyadua@nls.ac.in)

 

References

Express, Indian. 2015. “Land acquisition: A new capital city in farmland.” Indian Express. December 25.

Harvey, David. 2005. A brief History of neoliberalism. Oxford University Press.

PRS legislative research. December 2015.

http://www.prsindia.org/billtrack/the-right-to-fair-compensation-and-transparency-in-land-acquisition-rehabilitation-and-resettlement-amendment-bill-2015-3649/

Sathe, Dhanmanjiri. 2016. “Land Acquisition: A need for a shift in discourse .” Economic and Political Weekly 1-7.

Featured Image Source: http://www.indino.in/the-right-to-fair-compensation-and-transparency-in-land-acquisition-rehabilitation-and-resettlement-amendment-ordinance-2015/

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