In Hindu mythology, the river Yamuna is the sister of Yama, the god of death. Legend has it that bathers in the Yamuna's waters are freed from the torments of death. But the 165-km-long Yamuna Expressway from Greater Noida to Agra is fast turning out to be the kiss of death for farmers who till the land along its banks.
The farmers initially cooperated with the Uttar Pradesh government, selling off their fertile lands for the expressway. But it was a different matter when the government sought to acquire more land to build urban clusters along the expressway too.
This time they resisted. It has now emerged that over the past two years, Chief Minister Mayawati's government forcibly acquired around 6,500 hectares affecting a population of about 1.3 million.
Some of the farmers went to court and in a series of judgments, both the Supreme Court and the Allahabad High Court have struck down a number of acquisitions. A crucial feature of the judgments has been their questioning of the manner in which the government exercised its powers under Section 17 of the Land Acquisition Act, or LA Act. Section 17 bars those affected by land acquisition from filing objections.
|An archaic law's journey|
1894: Land Acquisition Act passed
1998 Oct: Union Ministry of Rural Development initiates amendment process
2007 Dec: Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2007 introduced in Lok Sabha
2007 Dec: LA Bill referred to the Standing Committee on Rural Development
2008 Oct: The committee submits its report to Parliament
2008 Dec: Many of the recommended amendments approved by UPA government
2009 Feb: LA Bill passed a day before the dissolution of the 14th Lok Sabha
2009 Feb: LA Bill is tabled in the Rajya Sabha but not cleared; it lapses
| How land is acquired for companies at present and what could make it tougher|
Land is identified by the company
Notification from state government saying identified land is required for public purpose
In future: Firms may have to acquire bulk of land they need directly without government help
Objections are filed by owners and others with the district collector within 30 days
In future: Villagers could get up to six months to file objections
States often acquire land within 15 days of publication of a notice bypassing this step
In future: Tighter urgency clause to stop this practice
Notices from the collector sent to land owners inviting compensation claims
The collector conducts an enquiry on objections fi led. No award can be made sans enquiry
Government takes possession of land
Compensation paid based on market value of land, including interest payable for delays
In future: Compensation to go up significantly and include an original owner share in case of land value escalation
Land is transferred to the company
| An industry-friendly state's pro-farmer policy|
During the Vibrant Gujarat Summit in 2003, detergent manufacturer Nirma proposed a cement plant at Mahuva in Bhavnagar district. The `450-crore project was to include a 50-mw captive power plant. Eight years on, Nirma is yet to begin work on the 1.91-million-tonne-per-annum cement plant because the acquisition of 268 hectares required for the project has run into opposition from farmers.
While the protesting farmers and the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests have maintained the land identified for the project is wetland, the state government has classified it as wasteland. The project now faces relocation as the Centre has filed a report with the Supreme Court opposing the land allotment on the ground that it is an environmentally sensitive wetland that supports cultivation in the area.
This was the trigger that prompted the Narendra Modi government to rework its land acquisition policy earlier this year. According to the reworked policy, the state will not forcibly acquire farmland for private projects. Says Principal Revenue Secretary P. Panneervel: "The new land acquisition policy is not only farmer friendly but also addresses the welfare of those who give up land for a public utility." He says henceforth the state will not get involved in any land acquisition for private projects.
"The investor has to deal with the landowners himself.'' The government will acquire land only for public utilities but only with the landowner's consent and after providing him with a host of compensation benefits. Gujarat's stand is much like that of Mamata Banerjee's, who had prompted the UPA I to include a similar proposal in its Land Acquisition Act Amendment Bill 2009 (that lapsed with the dissolution of the 14th Lok Sabha). In May, Home Minister P. Chidambaram spoke of the need for a new policy - either reviving the lapsed Bill or introducing fresh legislation in the monsoon session. As land is on the Concurrent List, states can have own policies but will have to be in consonance with the Centre's law, Jairam Ramesh, Union Minister for Rural Development, has said. "They can build over the provisions contained in the Centre's law."
| A land slide victory|
West Bengal is a classic case of politicisation of the land acquisition problem. Singur and Nandigram stand like symbols of the Left's doom in the state after a 34-year rule. They are also the trigger points for the call for a change in the country's 120-year-old land acquisition law. The Tatas subsequently had to relocate their small car project to Gujarat and may now have to return 40 per cent of the 1,000 acres acquired in Singur. The state government has taken possession of the premises after the passing of the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, 2011. But for now, the Supreme Court has stayed the order to return the land till the Calcutta High Court gives its final verdict on an appeal filed by Tata Motors opposing the step.
Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee declared soon after her entry into Kolkata's historic Writers Buildings as Chief Minister that while she had invited industrial houses such as the Tatas to invest in the state, her government would return the land taken from unwilling farmers. The announcement may deter companies from setting up large plants in the state for which hundreds of acres are required.
Becharam Manna, Trinamool MLA from Haripal near Singur told BT some weeks ago: "There are around 400 acres inside the boundary (of the plant) that belong to farmers who did not accept their compensation. My first priority is to return this land and only then can we think of setting up industries." Banerjee has asked the Tatas to start production in the part of the plant they have been allowed to retain. The problem, however, is pockets of disputed land are scattered all over the site. This has made even the land the Tatas have been allowed to keep unusable.
Upcoming projects in West Bengal are going to have to adjust to the new policy for acquisitions. The Trinamool government has laid down some guiding principles for land acquisition in its vision statement that will make it increasingly difficult to acquire large tracts for big factories. The many conditions include a ban on acquisition of land that is cultivated or owned by small farmers. Nearly 80 per cent of the landowners in Bengal are small farmers. "Investments is a matter of confidence, infrastructure and opportunity. The opposite exists in Bengal.
Infrastructure needs to be beefed up to build confidence for investments," says Sanjiv Goenka, Chairman of the Kolkataheadquartered RP-Sanjiv Goenka group.
- Sunny Sen
| Rob Ram to pay Shyam|
"I saw an advertisement in the newspaper for plots at Rs 62,000 a square metre in the area where my farm is situated," says Ram Prakash, a farmer in Bhatta village of Gautam Budh Nagar in Uttar Pradesh. In February this year, Prakash had finally accepted the state government's terms of compensation for acquiring the land. Prakash says he and other local farmers had been holding out but were forced to fall in line - they got Rs 711 to 880 per sq metre with no rehabilitation and resettlement, or R&R, benefits or future income streams. They received Rs 63 lakh for nine bighas they jointly owned. "It was a choice between losing our land for nothing and accepting whatever was being offered," says Prakash, who later filed an objection with the district officials and still has possession of the farm.
Farmers such as Prakash are upset with the UP government pocketing the mark-up between the compensation it paid them and the Rs 62,000 a sq metre it has advertised for. "I realised Rs 63 lakh for nine bighas is a pittance as I scouted for a plot to buy in Delhi," says Prakash. The farms in Bhatta, like all others in the 1,200 villages on the Yamuna Expressway corridor are highly fertile and canal irrigated, producing three crops a year. Bhatta's farm is near the motor racing track in the proposed Jaypee Sports City. "I am being forced to sacrifice my land to enrich the Jaypee Group," says Prakash.
The horrors of the forced acquisitions along the Yamuna Expressway came to light after Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi's intervention in early May. As the issue snowballed into a crisis, Chief Minister Mayawati announced a new land acquisition policy on June 2. However, the new policy still does not give owners a share in case of escalation in the land value. It says the role of the government will be that of a facilitator and companies will have to buy land from farmers directly once 70 per cent of the farmers approve the terms and conditions. The package will include an annuity of Rs 23,000 an acre for 33 years (with an annual increase of Rs 800 an acre) in addition to an option for taking back 16 per cent of their land developed for the project. Though people from Bhatta were party to the decision, many like Prakash will missout on the promised benefits as it is being implemented prospectively.
|3lakh hectares required by 2030 to enable 8 to 9 per cent GDP growth rate. This is twice the amount acquired between 1985 and 2005|
2% or less of total project cost is typically spent on land acquisition
80% of projects delayed or facing cost overruns due to land acquisition issues
80% minerals and coal lie in tribal areas where locals refuse to give up land
1.3% of GDP growth lost every year due to poor land records
Sources: Government of India, Centre for Science and Environment estimates, CLSA
| Where does the title stop?|
Companies acquiring land through direct negotiations with landowners run litigation risks, especially since most holdings are small, requiring them to deal with a large number of owners and squatters. The problem of poor land records and widespread disputes could be eliminated if the government uses Eminent Domain to buy land on behalf of companies. Even this may not work in all cases, especially where slums have been regularised. One such case is Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport.
In May 2006, the Airports Authority of India, or AAI, transferred the 1,976-acre airport to infrastructure major GVK for its modernisation. But 276 acres had already been encroached upon and housed 275,000 to 325,000 slum dwellers who needed to be relocated. (The airport modernisation project is a public-private partnership initiative, making this acquisition a shade different since AAI will continue to own the land.) The state government, however, is yet to give the go-ahead to the shifting of the slum dwellers to new tenements built for them.
Similar problems are faced by even the biggest names in Indian industry, like Reliance. Reliance Haryana SEZ, a special economic zone company owned 90 per cent by Reliance Industries and 10 per cent by the Haryana State Industrial Development Corporation, started buying land in 2006 to set up an SEZ spread over 25,000 acres. To date, less than one-fourth of that target has been acquired. Insiders say about 8,000 acres were bought from 3,000 sellers at an average price of Rs 25 lakh an acre - five times the market price in 2006. Sellers also get an annuity spread over 33 years, amounting to a cumulative Rs 16 lakh an acre over that period. Says a former company insider on the condition of anonymity: "The revenue records in the area are disorganised, and there are many joint owners of the same land." Nearly a thousand partition cases were filed in the tehsils falling under just one district, Jhajjar, to separate the rights of co-sharers.
Navigating through land records can also be tough for acquirers. Even the registrar's office is not empowered to certify title claims. Registrars only record property for revenue purposes: what is registered is not the title but the deed of the transaction. Even these records are incomplete. So far, only 14 states have online records of rights and 16 have computerised mutation.
-E. Kumar Sharma & Josey Puliyenthuruthel