August 19, 2010

the land acquisition and compensation game

These days, farmers in areas around big cities do not seem to be bothering about weather, fertilizers, seed, labour etc. They are busy praying and lobbying that their land be acquired by the government and they are paid enormous sums. There are dharnas and roadblocks by 'farmers' in many parts of the country on any given day.

Think of 'farmers' around Delhi. Till the British shifted India's capital from Calcutta to Delhi and till years later, small farmers of this area could hardly grow crops enough to meet their own requirement. Many shifted to Delhi as the city grew and provided employment and civic amenities not available in villages. When the city grew beyond the core area, then into neighbouring states, they suddenly found their land in huge demand from government and private builders. Many of them must have been hoodwinked by smart operators and fleeced by government babus. Some might have died waiting for the  promised gold.

But then there is a huge army of 'farmers' of all sizes who smell mountains of gold in their land. A paper recently reported that in a slum colony in Mumbai, hutment owners first got 50 lakh [five million] bucks, the ones who waited for a few months were offered 70 to 80 lakh and some are not selling their huts waiting for the price to reach one crore  [10 million] rupees. These 'farmers' are in the same league. They keep on getting higher and higher amounts for the land they sell.

The issue of land sale becomes emotional when governments try to acquire land. 'Farmers' come out in hordes, their associations converge, local and national-level political leaders and parties come in their support. They are presented as victims in the hand of a government that sells the intersts of poor people and farmers to big industrialists.

The government, who had even got a promise earlier from these 'farmers' for agreeing for a particular rate of compensation, suddenly finds the farmers asking for big jump in compensation. If the government does not agree to such demands, besides protests, they go to the court. So the harried government bows before them.
I am not saying, the govenrment functionaries are all the time honest and acquiring the land without any personal interest in mind. In more cases than one would like to believe, there is some politician or bureaucrat involved in favouring a businessman with the project that will come up on the acquired land. Many a times, criminals and professional landgrabbers could be favored in the garb of a project meant for public good.

However, the tyranny of the 'farmers' too needs to be denounced. These are landed people bent on making enoromous quick buck; they are not farmers. Real farmers are finding difficult to make decent earnings if they do not have big tracts of fertile land.

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