AP greenfield capital is land ordinance's testing ground

The new river front greenfield capital of Andhra Pradesh is all set to become the testing ground for the NDA government’s land acquisition ordinance aimed at fast tracking stalled projects in crucial sectors including power, housing and defence.

Following the promulgation of the Land Acquisition Ordinance, there were protests from people’s movements, political parties and farmers organisations as they suspect that the ordinance was brought to please corporate houses.

Their argument is that the ordinance is against the principles and objectives laid out in the Right to Fair Compensation, Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.

The provisions in the ordinance have a direct bearing on the AP Government’s proposed Singapore model state capital on the banks of the Krishna river near Guntur and Vijayawada.

The proposed capital will come up in 31,000 acres of land under phase 1. Government’s projections say that phase 1 will cover 29 villages and could go up to 1 lakh acres in subsequent phases.

However, the process of acquiring the required land is named as ‘land pooling’, a process to assemble small parcels of urban and fringe land without paying cash compensation to owners. Such lands are put to urban use and in barter some ‘developed’ plots are allotted to the original owners with right to alienate.

In stake here is a vibrant, entrepreneurial agro-economy of Rs 1,000 crore per year, with complete linkages from farm to market.  After the initial euphoria and the hype created by unscrupulous real estate agents, the farmers of the region have begun voicing their protest against the pooling of land.

Farmers in Penumaka and Undavalli villages even posted 1,000 post cards to the prime minister recently urging him to impress upon Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu the need for a “small and equitable” capital rather than a replica of Singapore.

The argument is that there is no need of such a mega capital for just 13 districts covering 4.9 crore population as it will destroy vast tracts of agricultural land. They point out that Chandigarh was built on 9,000 acres in Phase 1 and less than 6000 acres in Phase 2.

Several organisations undertook fact finding missions in the villages ear marked for the development following the promulgation of the ordinance amending many key provisions of the 2013 Act.

The mood of the Telugu Desam Government backed by the support of BJP at the Centre is perceived to have given out one clear message that people's consent and rights will not be respected in order to facilitate real estate development and profit for corporate houses.

The ordinance, while assuring that compensation will be higher and that there will be a better rehabilitation and resettlement package, allows the government to acquire land effortlessly by omitting steps like social impact assessment, impact on food security and consent of 80 per cent land owners.

The new changes brought in the ordinance such as allowing multi-crop irrigated land for acquisition can prove to be detrimental to the thousands of farmers of the villages identified for land pooling.

These 29 villages are of two kinds: one with irrigated multi-crop land within 2 km of the Krishna river, and another with rain-fed land raising commercial crops like cotton. These villages have a vibrant agricultural economy.

Over a lakh working people including many women earn secure livelihood from farming and trading in these villages. Denuding this land will affect the food security of the state. Acquisition of such land is prohibited under Section 10 of the Land Acquisition Act, 2013 even for public purposes.

Social activist Medha Patkar, who visited these villages recently, warned in a paper that “the new ordinance on land acquisition will allow land grabbers to deprive millions, destroy agriculture, horticulture, rivers, forests, tree cover and mangroves to extract minerals as well as ground water, without replenishment at a pace that will not leave anything for the next generation”.

She argued that in no other country the government could forcibly acquire land for private projects.

‘Consent’ and ‘public purpose’ 

“The new amendment drops ‘consent’ requirement totally justifying the ‘public purpose’ served by private projects under the public private partnership mode, which gives ample scope for Naidu’s Singapore model capital because he roped in the Singapore government to draft a master plan.

The land pooled from the farmers will be developed by private bodies,” said Bhupathi Raju of the National Alliance of People’s Movement, which is fighting for the rights of the farmers of the affected mandals in Guntur district.

One of the terms of reference of the K C Sivaramakrishnan committee on AP capital constituted by the UPA government comprising of urban planning and design experts, was “least possible dislocation to existing agriculture systems, preservation of local ecology, promoting environmentally sustainable growth, minimising the cost of construction and acquisition of land etc.”

The committee suggested decentralising of governance. It was not in favour of a greenfield capital and opined that if the AP government wants to pursue this option, it has to carry out a careful search for locations where large tracts of government land may be available. Instead, the government moved at breakneck speed and announced its capital.

The ordinance also sets aside the crucial Social Impact Assessment (SIA) which could have minimised the impact of displacement through collective bargaining and the determination of prior informed consent from affected families. Now, with the SIA process being waived, district collector concerned can acquire land.

Organisations protesting against the ordinance and the AP Government’s land pooling are demanding withdrawal of the Land Ordinance. What they say is that what is in need is a people-oriented policy for land that protects the rights of the common man.

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