Modi govt must not violate principles of land acquisition just to enrich corporates at the cost of peasants

Land acquired for ‘public purpose’ can’t transferred for ‘private purpose’ in name of monetization after forcing peasants to surrender their rights in the name of development or national interest

Modi govt must not violate principles of land acquisition just to enrich corporates at the cost of peasants

Dr Gyan Pathak

Modi government has been violating the principles of land acquisition in the country. Land of the ryots (peasant cultivators) acquired in the name of ‘national interest’ is now being manoeuvred in favour of ‘private interest’. It is nothing but land grab from the public by the State in the name of development but ultimately transferring them to private parties other than the original ryots.

It is therefore high time to revisit the Land Acquisition Act, its objectives, and its principles so that ryots’ interest could be protected against such land grab on behalf of ‘private parties’, especially after so-called ‘monetization’ move of ‘surplus’ land by setting up National Land Monetisation Corporation soon. The primary logic behind such moves is that all the concerned departments and the PSUs have ‘surplus’ land.

About 3,500 acres of land and other non-core assets of Central Public Sector Enterprises have been identified for monetization. To fast track ‘monetization’, the Union government may soon set up the National Land Monetisation Corporation (NLMC) under the Department of Public Enterprises (DPE).

As it has been reported, the NLMC will be a 100 per cent government-owned company with an initial, authorized share capital of Rs 5,000 crore and a subscribed share capital of Rs 150 crore. The Corporation would consist of real-estate sector and investment bankers, apart from the government and public sector officials. The surplus lands of PSEs would be transferred first to the NLMC and then it will lease, rent, or sell the land or landed assets to ‘private parties’.

The NLMC may also invest and develop the land for commercial or residential purposes, and generate income through rentals, lease, or sell.

There was also a proposal for similar ‘monetization’ programme under the Union Ministry of Surface Transport. As per the proposal, land on both sides of national highways are to be ‘monetized’. During the UPA rule, there was a proposal in 2010 to return the surplus and unused acquired land to the original ryots by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) for all national highway projects in the country. However, now there is a proposal to develop those lands for ‘monetization’.

It has been estimated that real estate development along the national highways offers over 15 per cent return for builders and potential investors. NHAI has identified more than 650 properties across 22 states with a combined area of over 3,000 hectares to be developed with private sector participation in the next five years.

Delhi-Mumbai Expressway will have 94 sites, while 376 sites are under construction at new highways or expressways and about 180 sites along an existing network.

India Railways also has big plans for ‘monetization’ of surplus land. They have thousands of acres of land which they call surplus and they want to give them to private parties for numerous purposes, ranging from opening cold storages to solar power generation. It is curious that one of the proposals is to give railway land for growing vegetables and crops apart from other private commercial ventures.

In this backdrop, the nation must think afresh about the land acquisition, and should answer the basic question as to why a ryat’s land be taken over by the State, only to transfer ultimately to others while cheating the original land owner. And if it is being done in the name of national interest and the development of the country, why should it not be treated as land grab on behalf of some other ‘private individuals and companies’?

It is clear from the recent proposals that the land was being acquired in excess in the name on development and national interest. If the land was not required for national development, why should the State be allowed to acquire it? And if the State fails to utilize it, why should it be allowed to transfer it to other private individuals and companies?

Such transfers indeed violate the very purpose of the land acquisition. It is also a criminal breach of trust between the citizen ryots and the State, because of the change of land use other than the purpose for which it is acquired. The land acquired for particular public purpose should not be allowed to be transferred for ‘private purpose’ only in the name of monetization after enforcing the ryots to surrender their rights to the State in the name of development or national interest.

True, the ryots might have been compensated for their land. But then the compensations have never been enough for the ryots, while the prices of their acquired lands become manifold just after acquisition.

An estimate shows that the average prices of the land increases by 60 to 80 times soon after their acquisition for national highways. It is rank dishonesty to acquire people’s land at a cheaper rate by the State and sell it at higher rates to other private parties or earn money from them at the cost of ryots. That the State has paid compensation is not a justification to violate the very objective of the land acquisition.

People have brought Modi to govern and to give them a better life, not to grab their land in the name of development and national interest, and to lease or transfer it ultimately to private entities, in violation of the originally announced ‘public purpose’ at the time of acquisition.

The government may change the announced ‘public purpose’ for another urgent ‘public purpose’, but maneuvering the principle of acquisition for the benefit of ‘private entities’ will be wrong.

The Union government must also ensure that ryots’ land is not acquired in excess or surplus if it is not required, and the practice of acquiring land only to sell it thereafter or for making money must stop.

(IPA Service)

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