Land acquisition ignites hundreds of mutinies

About a quarter of India’s districts are witnessing mass protests over land acquisition issues according to a study. It identified 252 land conflicts spread over 165 districts, spanning practically all states of the country, in 2013-14. This is an increase of over 40 per cent over 2012 when an earlier study had recorded 177 disputes in 130 districts. 

This incendiary situation is the reason behind the bitter debate over the new land acquisition law both in the Parliament and outside. While many see takeover of land as essential for industrial development, the problems of compensating and rehabilitating those who get displaced by such projects remain unresolved. It is estimated that projects valued at Rs.6 lakh cr are stalled due to land acquisition issues. 

The data on conflicts was collated by the Society for Promotion of Wasteland Development (SPWD) and the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) from media reports and cases pending in High Courts and the Supreme Court. 

“It is difficult to track all conflicts. We have included conflicts on the basis of a certain level of intensity - if people have been killed or injured in protests, and if more than one village is involved, then we included the case,” said Viren Lobo of SPWD. 

Most of these conflicts arose because of state takeover of land, often to transfer it to private entities for building power projects, mines, economic zones, etc. An increased drive for such takeover in the past decade has evoked strong reactions among land holders and others who work on the land. 

The benefits of projects for which land is taken over do not flow to the people who live there, says Lobo, explaining why there is resistance to land acquisition. 

Bijaybhai one of the leaders of Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, an umbrella front of various movements resisting land acquisition, says that they are not in blind opposition. 

“If you inform the people, take their consent for what is necessary and sustainable, then there won’t be opposition. But wholesale takeover for speculative reasons, destruction of people’s livelihoods and repression have generated this resistance,” he says.

Compensation alone is not sufficient to convince people to part with their land. Sita Ram owns a two-acre plot of land in a village near the inviolate sal forests in Mahan, in Singrauli district of Madhya Pradesh. He cultivates rice on the land. He is attached to not only this sparse plot of land but also to the forest.

This forest and 54 villages with over 50,000 inhabitants are doomed because there is coal below their lands. Several mining and thermal power projects are planned for the area, although the coal block auction has been dropped recently 

“We will be destroyed. How far can we go with a few lakh rupees?” asks Sita Ram, referring to compensation offers. 

One of the driving factors behind resentment is that lands far in excess of needs have been taken over. A recent TOI report had revealed that 53,000 hectares of land acquired for Special Economic Zones (SEZ) several years ago is still lying vacant. A report by the Centre for Science & Environment (CSE) had said that between 2007 and 2011, coal thermal power projects with a total capacity of 176,000 MW were approved which is 40 per cent more than the target up to 2017. 

Tribals have been especially hard hit with about 40 per cent of all displaced people till now belonging to these forest dwelling communities. They are often left out of the compensation calculations because their land rights are not recognized. Also, their use of common forests is not given any value. 

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