Need for a Middle Path

     Print Edition: September 2011

Land is a symbol of pride, security and wealth. When someone has to part with his land, it is not a happy occasion for the individual. Losing your land is akin to taking a huge blow on your pride and social stature. It is this social and emotional behaviour that works against any forceful acquisition of land.

In Uttar Pradesh, the government had been acquiring land without much resistance while there were huge protests against forceful land acquisition in other parts of the country.

When the court ruled in favour of villagers in Noida Extension, the farmers of the state finally started giving vent to their anger against land acquisitions. Due to widespread protests against land acquisitions, the Land Acquisition Act, which is more than a century old, will now be amended.

In Noida Extension, the authorities made three major mistakes. The first was invoking the urgency clause for all acquisitions. The farmers should have been given an opportunity to raise objections according to the law. Second, the acquiring authority should have offered a larger portion of developed land to the original owners. As the value of land appreciates, the farmer feels cheated. This may happen due to a change in government policy or value addition by the developer, but the original owner still feels cheated. The third mistake was to offer compensation not commensurate with the future potential of land valuation.

The row shows that even government commitments cannot be relied upon. Before buying land from the government, the developers will now have to verify even the government's title and the process it has followed for acquiring that land. In order to avoid this, a more practical approach is required. Some ways to avoid confrontation with those affected by land acquisitions include:

>> Offer 10-25% developed land to original owners

>> Provide farmers alternative irrigated land

>> Fix price of acquired land through negotiations

>> Give land owners partnership in the project as equity

>> Try to avoid forceful acquisition unless warranted for social welfare

The proposed land acquisition law tries to address these issues. Unfortunately, our system is always swinging between extremes. Either we don't do it or overdo it. The proposed Bill also deals with the issue with an impractical approach. It aims to bring developers that acquire land for townships under the new law, which is ridiculous.

Private land transactions are at much higher price and to the satisfaction of owners/sellers. So, bringing their transaction under the new law will make development of townships difficult. The legislation should not be such that acquiring land becomes impossible.

We need a middle path.

Lalit Kumar Jain
President, Confederation of Real Estate Developers' Associations of India

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