Development by piracy

Successive elected executives and legislatures at the centre and in the states have mostly neglected the Directive Principles of State Policy
Last Updated : 29 March 2023, 19:36 IST
Last Updated : 29 March 2023, 19:36 IST

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The unwritten policy of successive central and state governments is to encourage and enable industrial, commercial and ‘developmental’ projects requiring land and other resources, with little concern for their impact on people and societies, or the environment.

Successive elected executives and legislatures at the centre and in the states have mostly neglected the Directive Principles of State Policy, meant to empower people, promote health and welfare, minimise inequality, and secure livelihoods, etc. They have instead embraced promotion of financial-economic growth as the path of development.

Elected governments have the legal authority for land acquisition and property expropriation for a “public purpose”.

However, project execution inevitably raises human and social issues due to involuntary displacement of large numbers of social units of people, and their compensation, resettlement or rehabilitation. These “project-affected families” (PAFs) – people whose lives, habitats and livelihoods have a symbiotic and intimate connection with land, are usually driven to near-destitution in urban slums.

After 1950, the British-era Land Acquisition Act, 1894 (LAA-1894) was amended in 1962 and 1984, but remained essentially the same in effect.

Following sustained public demand and agitation against LAA-1894, the government proposed a Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill, 2007. This was defective in multiple ways, and further public objection and agitation resulted in another Bill being proposed in 2011. Finally, driven by widespread public agitation concerning violation of the rights of people and societies by land acquisition under LAA-1894, Parliament enacted the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (LARR-2013), which repealed LAA-1894.

LARR-2013 is meant “… to ensure, in consultation with institutions of local self-government and Gram Sabhas established under the Constitution, a humane, participative, informed and transparent process for land acquisition for industrialisation, development of essential infrastructural facilities and urbanisation, with the least disturbance to the owners of the land and other affected families, and provide just and fair compensation to the affected families, whose land has been acquired or proposed to be acquired or are affected by such acquisition, and make adequate provisions for such affected persons for their rehabilitation and resettlement, and for ensuring that the cumulative outcome of compulsory acquisition should be, that affected persons become partners in development, leading to an improvement in their post-acquisition social and economic status, and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”. [Emphasis supplied to key phrases]

Spirit of LARR-2013

Section 4 concerns determination of social impact and public purpose. It mandates that the government “shall consult the concerned Panchayat, Municipality or Municipal Corporation, as the case may be, at village level or ward level, in the affected area and carry out a Social Impact Assessment study in consultation with them”. Section 4 also mandates conduct of SIA, and spells out the details, which the Central, State or UT Government is to follow.
Land acquisition without SIA can be done “only in cases of urgency, concerning the defence of India or national security, or for any emergencies arising out of natural calamities, or any other emergency”, but with the approval of Parliament.

Section 106 empowers the Central government to amend Schedules “without in any way reducing the compensation or diluting the provisions of this Act relating to compensation or rehabilitation and resettlement”, and Section 107 empowers State Legislatures to enact any law more beneficial to affected families.

In the years before LARR-2013, on the strength of LAA-1894 and its implicit principle of eminent domain, developmental projects from 1950 to 2009 caused displacement of about 50 million people (33 million due to dam-canal projects alone) averaging 1,800 per day. This exceeds the 700-per-day average of 50-million African people forced into slavery over 200 years by European slave traders!

Even following LARR-2013, large-scale population displacement continues. Indeed, in recent times, governments obsessed with economic and financial growth are increasing the pace of developmental projects, driving ever more PAFs into penury, and swelling the ranks of the unemployed.

Today, notwithstanding the spirit of LARR-2013 being in favour of PAFs – recalling that LARR-2013 was the result of protracted public agitation – governments are enacting laws to dilute LARR-2013.

Some States – Gujarat (2016), Maharashtra (2018) and Karnataka (2019) – have enacted laws amending LARR-2013, to exempt developmental projects from the purview of SIAs and public hearings.

Government of Odisha tabled a Bill, The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Odisha Amendment) Bill 2023, to attract private investments in mega-projects across sectors, and fast track the process of development, by doing away with the practice of holding SIAs.

Very recently, farmers, pastoralists, Dalits, backward classes and other communities, protested against their dispossession and displacement due the Bangalore Development Authority acquiring land in 17 villages for development of an urban layout, and represented to Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai.

Governments remain unresponsive, and often use police force on peaceful protesters demanding their just dues. In any case, states diluting the spirit of a Central law and disempowering people, and denying their fundamental rights, is ethically and Constitutionally unacceptable, and questionable at the apex judicial level.

Piracy of land

Piracy is an act of theft, robbery or criminal violence by ship or boat-borne attackers on another ship or a coastal area, typically with the goal of stealing cargo and other valuable goods. Extracting property from a victim without his or her knowledge or permission is piracy.

European powers furthered their domestic economic and financial growth by capturing land in the Americas, and Britain capturing the Indian subcontinent, and subjugating indigenous peoples. Although Britain enacted LAA-1894 to give a false veneer of legality to what was fundamentally piracy, most other colonial powers did not bother with such legal window-dressing.

In present times, land acquisition by LARR-2013 for developmental projects also results in involuntary and forceful dispossession, displacement and destitution of populations. Worse, elected governments are disempowering people and destroying the spirit of LARR 2013 for economic and financial growth.

If the former is piracy by an imperial power, the latter is the piracy of “development” in our democratic republic.

Published 29 March 2023, 18:06 IST

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