While on the one hand, the state government plans to identify and free about 2,000 acres of land allotted by the Karnataka Industrial Area Development Board (KIADB) which have been lying unutilised for long, on the other, it is moving ahead to acquire another 1,777 acres of land in Devahanahalli taluk, against the will of many farmers. The KIADB routinely acquires farmland and allots them to upcoming industries. While the law is clear that the allotted land will be forfeited if it is not utilised within three years, officials and the government look the other way companies hoard land and later illegally transfer it to others for real estate development and non-industrial purposes. The land around Devanahalli has virtually turned into gold with the international airport coming up there, which explains why the government has initiated acquisition proceedings there for the fourth time in just the last few years. Now, with the latest move, 1,867 title-holders are set to become landless. Devanahalli farmers have been protesting for over two months now, questioning the need for more land when large tracts acquired during the earlier phases are still lying vacant.
Industries Minister Murugesh Nirani had recently announced that the government would float a global tender to shortlist an agency to audit all 188 industrial areas in the state and identify lands that have not been used for the allotted purpose or have been encroached upon. The move to acquire more land before completing this exercise is highly improper and gives the impression that officials and ministers may be hand-in-glove with the real estate lobby. Devanahalli, known as the food basket of Bengaluru, supplies fruits, vegetables, poultry and dairy products to the city. Mindlessly acquiring land in this green belt will not only destroy livelihoods, it will also threaten food security and impact the farm economy at large. Acquiring fertile agricultural land for industrial purposes, that too without the required environmental clearance, socio-economic impact survey or even a clear rehabilitation and resettlement programme, is unacceptable.
The farmers have a point when they say they would like to continue as producers of food rather than ending up as “housekeeping staff” in companies once their land is taken away. The move to acquire land at Devanahalli also goes against the government’s ‘Beyond Bengaluru’ policy, under which it proposes to move investments to tier-2 cities to ensure equitable development across the state. The government should immediately shelve the move and first focus on reclaiming and reallotting unused KIADB land before initiating any fresh acquisition.