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Land acquisition becoming an issue for infrastructure projects

In the past decade, a number of industrial and infrastructure projects in India have been shelved or long delayed due to the land acquisition issues. In most of the cases, the land sought to be acquired has been agricultural land. This turns topsy turvy the life of the farmers and  agriculturists who  have been depending on the land for their livelihood  and, not surprisingly , there have been  protests and opposition for such a move to acquire agricultural land. N.S. Venkataraman reports

In Tamil Nadu, for example, the natural gas pipeline project from Kochi to Tamil Nadu had to be stopped as the agriculturists protested against the laying of pipeline on agricultural land.  The   proposal for crude oil / gas exploration in the 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 long delayed, as several acres of agricultural land in the region has to be acquired for the highway infrastructure project. 

Presently, the Tamil Nadu Government has proposed to acquire  4791 acres  of  land (2605 acres fall in the wetland category while 827 acres is dry land), at Parandur in Kanchipuram District for   Chennai’s second airport. As many as 1005 houses will have to be razed down for construction of the airport in 13 villages.  This move of the government has evoked a huge protest from the agriculturists in the area and the local people. While a few instances such as the one above have been pointed out in Tamil Nadu, similar land acquisition issues have been occurring in several states in India.

Genuine concern

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 the land acquisition problem by the government and they are certainly right. Cash compensation for forcible acquisition of agricultural and patta land  cannot be adequate  for the affected people, as in these days of inflation and land and real estate value prices increasing all the time, the affected people end up becoming 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 yearly, which has been sustaining the family for generations. They cannot thus reconcile to giving up their land for money, which could evaporate soon due to fall in value or lack of judicious way of using the amount for long-term sustenance.  Further, even if they deposit the money in financial institutions and banks, the interest income would be small compared to the potential income from agricultural operations. When 1005 houses in 13 villages will be razed, where will the residents go? Sadly, the Tamil Nadu Government appears to be under the mistaken impression that cash dole out is all that is needed to be provided to the affected people. 

Need for a 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. 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.
  • Jobs must be provided by the government at least to one person in each 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 necessary in a welfare society. 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 who hold large quantities of surplus land at their site / campus, which have not been put to use for 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 land. It is high time that the Government of India creates a comprehensive policy and approach along with a suitable compensation mechanism for acquiring land for industrial and infrastructure projects. 

October – December 2022