Suit Boot aur Land acquisition

 

Before we get deeper into the subject of this debate versus the reality of development economics, let us look at two instances, both quoted widely by the anti-LARR Bill lobby.

  1. Owing to the Narmada Dam Project, the Gujarat state in Western India has increased the total cultivable land by approximately 37 lakh hectares, over the past little more than a decade.
  1. When protests in West Bengal created impediments for the creation of Tata group car manufacturing unit, they quickly shifted their green field Nano factory into Gujarat.

Of late, this debate has been raging in India about the government amending the Land Acquisition Act to favour the Corporate Houses. Is this argument tenable?  

Almost to the day, the current Narendra Modi government has spent one year in office. It may be recalled that the middle class had over-reachingly voted for stability and development a year back. The middle class is fast rising in the country and also moving rapidly into urbanised economic hubs. Delhi alone has approximately seventy-five thousand families gravitating from the rural areas to Delhi.

So if job creation needs to be the foremost responsibility of the government, shouldn’t industrialisation in cities, or special economic hubs, keep pace with the migration into urban centres. But for all of this, we need land.

As often professed by this author, there may be ‘historical reasons’ for reforms not touching the lives of the farmers / landowners towards which we need to adopt a ‘corrective approach’ immediately. It seems that the arguments made against the act are aimed at the media, who normally get fatigued by such issues within 72 hours. We need long term corrective measures and land reforms to ensure that the rural economy and the urban economy are complementing each other’s’ growth.

Short of selling the fear & hope to the land owning farmer community, our policies need to be forward looking. Data reveals that almost 60% of vegetables and fruits produced by the farmers decay owing to lack of warehousing space. If we need to percolate the development economics, we need to accelerate the rollout of infrastructure deep into the rural landscape. A certain amount of land has to be acquired to provide infrastructure to benefit these very villages & villagers whose interest is said to be defended. How can this be termed as ‘land grabbing’ by the detractors?

As an example, Gurgaon, today has more than 1.5 lakh people of origins in West Bengal, staying in not so conducive atmosphere, engaged in menial jobs at the bottom of the pyramid. A brief study of this ‘sample audience’ clearly exemplifies that agriculture in their native villages is no longer a paying vacation. The lack of industrial activity over the past two decades has also ‘dried-up’ skilled jobs. If that be the case, would not it be case in point to industrialise that state by either acquiring the land directly from the farmers at prices higher than the current market price and create jobs by industrialising pockets. Who benefitted by Tata Nano exiting W. Bengal?

The Planning Commission (now Niti Ayog) estimates that the agriculture production improved by 8.5% (approx.) between 2005- 2012 in Gujarat while the national average remained at 4%. Likewise the primary sector in the state GDP declined to 5% whereas both services and industry showed remarkable growth in Gujarat.

This argument that India would lose its food security by industrialisation is not tenable, since we also can, by creation of infrastructure through the innovative projects like river linkages, national highways, bridges; check dams etc. bring more arid lands into cultivation. Also Neo Modern technologies can be used to improve farm out-put. There is indeed a need for a second ‘green revolution’ which can target improvement in productivity or yield per acre and not just the total land under cultivation by any farming family. A good mix of   cash crops, fisheries, poultry and such produce in the villages which can be profitably sold to urban centres can benefit the farmers and negate losses, if any, on account of portions of land being acquired for industrialisation purpose.

My argument is that for the development of village level economies, it is necessary to focus on improving the income levels, per working member of the family. We could immediately mark a target of 25% growth year on year in chosen villages and create a few success stories. The Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojna (SAGY) can possibly be a catalyst by critically addressing the development economics in each of these villages being adopted by Members of Parliament.

Some debates are best concluded within a pre-defined time frame.

 

The author, Ramesh Menon MRICS, currently forms part of the founding team of Certes realty Ltd, with the expertise in Urbanization of Delhi, and the Delhi master plan MPD 2021

 

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