Pragmatic move

The recent farmers’ agitation in western UP has spurred the state government to announce a new land acquisition policy. UP had a land acquisition policy which was more farmer-friendly than those of many other state governments but it was not adequate to contain the disquiet and disaffection of farmers who were told to give up their land for development projects. The new policy is an advance on the earlier one and addresses some of the genuine problems and grievances of farmers. The main issues in the land acquisition process are the need for consent or at least majority support for parting with the land, consultation, adequate compensation, rehabilitation wherever needed and a stake for the land losers in the project that comes up on their land. The new policy deals with these issues better than in the past.

According to the policy, the responsibility to convince the farmers of the need to part with the land rests with the developers in the case of private projects. The government will act as a facilitator only if the developer manages to acquire 70 per cent of the required land on the basis of consent from the land owners. Apart from agreed compensation, the farmers will get an annuity of  Rs 23,000 per acre for 33 years, the right to 16 per cent of the developed land and shares in the project. There are also job schemes for members of dispossessed families. There may be scope to further improve the policy in some respects. For example, a farmer who has only a small patch of land may not get much from the 16 per cent of the developed land. Simplification of procedures is also important.

Farmers’ organisations have welcomed the policy while the industry is divided on it.  The government may have to convince the entire industry on the advantages of having a policy based on the best interests of the farmers and the industry’s requirements. More importantly, a central land acquisition legislation, which the UPA government has promised in place of the existing 1894 Act, should soon be enacted. The National Advisory Council has made some proposals and the UP government’s policy conforms to them. The Centre, states and political parties should resist the temptation to politicise land acquisition issues and be guided by national interest which involves both farmers and the industry.

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