Prioritise food production and treasure fertile land . . .

.

Amy Kazmin reports for the FT, from Premnagar in Chhattisgarh, about yet another campaign in the battle about land. 

In March 2010, Aman Sethi in The Hindu, reported the dissolution of Premnagar’s gram panchayats (village council) and replaced it with a nagar panchayat (city council), thereby designating Premnagar as a Municipal Area and denotifying the Panchayat Act of 1996, which gave tribal populations control over their lands.  

Cars or food?

A year later, Premnagar villagers learnt that Haryana state authorities were going to take over 1,800 acres of land, including their fields, to expand the nearby Manesar industrial estate, with its huge car and auto component factories which have suffered from industrial unrest; one factory was burnt down in July and there were attacks on staff representing factory owners accused of making men work for 36 hours at a stretch and not paying them accordingly.

Dev Pal Singh has a three-acre farm in Premnagar village, supporting chickens, buffaloes, guava orchard and a plant nursery. Appealing to the supreme court, he and other farmers obtained a stay order. He says: “I’m not against industrialisation, but there should be a system. If the government wants to crush landowners and farmers and set up factories over their dead bodies, that is wrong.”

A good judgment

A year ago the FT recorded the ‘landmark’ Supreme Court judgment, which overturned the acquisition of more than 150 hectares of land, acquired by the provincial government in Uttar Pradesh, sold at a low price for an industrial project and then used for real estate development. The SC ordered that this land, in the village of Shahberi, should be returned to farmers.

A new law

The government hopes to reduce land conflict with a new law by the end of the parliamentary session on September 7, giving communities greater say over whether to relinquish their land for private industry. Private companies seeking rural land for industry would have to obtain the consent of 80% of those affected before the government would complete the process and take land from people holding out. 

Pressure from CII, warning that the viability of industrial projects could be affected and competitiveness eroded

Because the draft law requires project developers to pay four times the market value for rural land, and to resettle the displaced – not just landowners, but also landless labourers – the Confederation of Indian Industry estimates the bill would triple land and resettlement costs, raising it from an average 3-4%% of a project’s costs to 7-9%. The CII warned this increase could affect the viability of industrial projects, and “erode competitiveness of the Indian manufacturing sector”.

Dev Pal Singh described the human impact of such decisions:

He had observed that a decade ago Haryana farmers who sold off their land for industry bought expensive cars and houses; when the money had been spent these ‘uneducated’ people had to take up low-paid jobs, some turning to crime or even committing suicide. He concludes: 

“I am not making so much money, but I enjoy the natural surroundings, pure milk and pure food. How much money would I need from my land to get this life again?”

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