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Industrial projects in Tamil Nadu or across India: why is acquiring land main hurdle?

By NS Venkataraman* 

In the last decade, a number of industrial and infrastructure projects have been shelved or heavily delayed due to the land acquisition issues in the country.
In most of the cases, the land sought to be acquired has been agricultural land. This uproots the life of the farmers and agriculturists who have been depending on the agricultural land for their earnings and livelihood and not surprisingly, there have been protests and opposition for such a move to acquire agricultural land.
For example, in Tamil Nadu, the natural gas pipeline project from Kochi to Tamil Nadu had to be stopped as the agriculturists protested against laying of pipeline e in the agricultural land. The proposal for crude oil/ gas exploration in delta region has also been stopped due to the land acquisition issue The proposal to build an eight lane highway between Salem and Chennai have been heavily delayed, as several acres of agricultural land in the region has to be acquired for the highway infrastructure project.
At present, the Tamil Nadu government has proposed to acquire 4,791 acres of land (of this 2,605 acres fall under the wetland category, while the 827 acres is dry land), at Parandur in Kanchipuram district for Chennai’s second airport.
As many as 1,005 houses will have to be razed down for construction of the airport in 13 villages. This move of the Tamil Nadu government has evoked huge protest from the agriculturists in the area and the local people.

Situation across India

While a few instances as above have been pointed out in Tamil Nadu, the similar land acquisition issue has been taking place in several states all over India.
A careful and dispassionate study and analysis of the above scenario would highlight the fact that the concern of the affected agriculturists and local people about the acquisition of agricultural and patta land for industrial/ infrastructure projects are fully justified. Their apprehensions and anxiety are genuine and cannot be ignored or taken for granted under any circumstances.
In all such cases concerning land acquisition, the government has been offering cash compensation to the affected people and seem to think that this is all that would be required to meet the needs of the affected people and quell their anxiety.
For example, in the case of Parandur land acquisition issue relating to the construction of second Chennai airport, the Tamil Nadu government has offered 3.5 times the market value of land for the affected agriculturists and local people.
The affected people think that this is a very insensitive way of attempting to solve this land acquisition problem by the Tamil Nadu government and they are certainly right.
Cash compensation for forcible acquisition of agricultural land and patta land cannot be adequate for the affected people, as in these days of inflation and land value and real estate value prices increasing all the time, the cash amount received right now will make the affected people to become losers in financial terms in the long run.
Further, the more serious question is that the agriculturists and their families have been involved in ploughing the land for several decades and agricultural activity is the only expertise known to them. The operation of agricultural land gives them some recurring income year after year and have been sustaining the family for generations.
They cannot reconcile themselves to giving up their land that has sustained their families in exchange for some cash amount, which may go away from their hands too soon due to fall in value of the cash and possibly lack of judicious way of using the compensation amount for their long term sustenance.
Further, even if they deposit the cash amount in financial institutions and banks, the interest income would be small compared to the potential income from agricultural operations from time to time. The income opportunities that they get from the agricultural operations would be permanently lost.
When 1,005 houses in 13 villages will be razed, where will the residents go? The lives of the families would be totally uprooted.
Sadly, the Tamil Nadu government appears to be under the mistaken impression that cash dole out is all that need to be provided to the affected people. It has to do much more to protect the long term interest of the residents, as otherwise, their life would be driven into a distress situation.

Need for humane policy

Apart from cash compensation for acquiring land, it is necessary to evolve a humane policy for protecting the long term interests of the uprooted families and the farmers.
Apart from the cash compensation, some of the suggestions that could be favourably considered are as follows:
  • Government should take responsibility for looking after the health and educational needs of the affected families who are there at the time of acquisition, till the end of their life.
  • An equity share must be given in the proposed project to the affected families, so that they can get the dividend income during the operation of the project regularly.
  • Job must be provided by the government atleast to one person in the affected family.
  • The government should also construct residential flats for the affected families in a suitable place and provide them free of cost.
The above measures are absolutely necessary, that would be in order in a welfare society.
Finally, the ministers, bureaucrats and government officials who are responsible to complete the land acquisition, should imagine for a moment as to how they would feel and what kind of hardship they would undergo, if they themselves would face a similar situation as the affected families.
Acquisition of agricultural land for industrial/ infrastructure projects should be the last option and not the first.
There are a number of educational institutions and industrial units in the country who hold large quantities of surplus land in their site/ campus, which have not been put to use for several years. There are also sick industrial units which are not in operation and they may have large areas of unused land.
It is necessary to carry out a land audit to identify such surplus / unused land which have not been put to use for more than five years and such land can be acquired by the government to set up industrial units, though this may not be suitable for infrastructure projects in all cases.
If a cost benefit analysis were to be made in a holistic manner, it would be clearly seen that the long term benefits of not using the agricultural land for industrial or infrastructure purposes would far outweigh the advantage of acquiring agricultural land for such purpose.
It is high time that the Government of India should create a comprehensive policy and approach along with a suitable compensation mechanism for acquiring land for industrial and infrastructure projects.
Since land acquisition is an all India issue now, it is the duty of the Government of India to consult all state governments to arrive at a fair scheme that would ensure that the interests of the land owners would be fully protected in the short and long term.
---
*Trustee, Nandini Voice for The Deprived, Chennai

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