The bill does not address the structural crisis of agriculture

The first one is premised on the markets when the acquisition of land is for the corporate entities. The other is centred on the doctrine of ‘eminent domain,’ where the state acquires land for the public sector or the corporate sector.

As far as land is concerned there are at least two different perspectives depending on what land means to people.

While the industrialists and the corporates will have a market based understanding, those who eke out their living from the lands - the tribals, the members of the indigenous communities and the farmers will have a different understanding.

Markets alone cannot determine the socially optimal price of land since land has also social value. To the tribals, the members of indigenous communities and the poor, land is a source of life and living. In it is their civilisation and culture which cannot be measured in monetary terms. That is why there are specific laws that do not permit the sale of tribal land and land of communities that have centred themselves on land.

In the last two decades ever since the country took to the market economy, large funds have been poured into the real estate leading to a speculative boom. This has led to commercialisation of land. In the period preceding the launching of the economic reforms, when the state acquired land, there was not much resistance to land acquisition from the owners of land since the land acquired was relatively small for public purposes. The beneficiaries of such acquisitions were largely the public sector.

In the present land acquisition bill the public purpose is narrowed. The bill permits the virtual conversion of public purpose into private benefit by not questioning the Public-Private-Partnership mode of implementation of infrastructure projects. One fails to understand why the state should buy land for private enterprise.

Needs of a good policy
The requirement of financial, social and environmental cost and benefit analysis of a project in the bill is a welcome suggestion. But with the market determined priorities of investment, the social and environmental considerations will be heavily at a discount in such an assessment.

The pre-requisites for a successful land policy are the formulation of a comprehensive, people-centric, ecology-friendly, region-specific and scientific land –use policy. Such a policy should take into consideration the provision of food security, preservation of biological diversity and promotion of the well-being and solidarity of all those, whose livelihood depends on land.

The government bill has suggested a formula for a six times higher compensation at the minimum. It has also proposed that the original landowner would be entitled to share 20 per cent of the capital gain at each subsequent sale of the land for a period of ten years.

This is aimed at commercialisation. With the flow of speculative capital into the land market, the resultant land price bubble and the consequent distortion in the socially optimal pattern of land use, the very proposal is viewed as a part of the market policy. What is needed is the bursting of the speculative bubble.

This of course does not mean that that land should not be made available for non-agricultural use. Laws could have exceptions. Those exceptions could include the use of land for housing for a vast majority of poor and middle classes, or for genuine social purposes such as hospitals and schools or for essential infrastructure such as roads and irrigation. However such exceptions should be made only with the consent of the local people.

 The bill rightly emphasises the livelihood question and seeks to lay down the condition of provision of a better and decent livelihood for those displaced by land acquisition. But it sidetracks an important issue of the small peasantry’s unwillingness to part with its land.

There is a section of small peasantry that is opposed to be dispossessed. For them, compensation or availability of alternative livelihood is not the issue. Even if farming is not viable, they would struggle to supplement it somehow rather than giving up the only source of security that they have.

 The bill should have addressed the structural crisis of the agrarian situation. The small size of the operational holding as far as people are concerned is still relevant. The cooperative pooling of land by small and marginal peasantry to overcome this limitation suggests itself as the obvious solution.

 To sum up, the current debate on land acquisition is narrowly focused. It shuts itself out from the basic question of land of which the question of land acquisition is only a small subset. Micro level remedies will not be equal to the macro level questions of policy.

On the one hand, we need to take immediate steps to stem the distortion and, on the other, we must move towards a new paradigm of land use, based on progressive de-commodification of land, based on the premise that land is the basis of existence and civilisation.

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