Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Forcible acquisition of land is on in Modi’s Gujarat

Rukmini Shrinivasan
TIG Sanand (Gujarat)

Gujarat’s industrialisation story is well known, but what is less clear is how exactly the land to house these industries is being acquired. The situation in the state’s showpiece region shows that Gujarat is undoubtedly compensating its farmers better than others, but forcible acquisition is certainly taking place. The Tata Motors decision to shift its Nano plant from Singur in West Bengal to Sanand, a block in Ahmedabad district, has pushed this agricultural area on to the industrial map. The Nano factory was allotted 1,100 acres of government land (which formerly housed farmland belonging to the state’s agricultural university) in Sanand, 25km from Ahmedabad.
The Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) then decided to set up an industrial estate in the same neighbourhood, which in its first phase will cover 2,400 hectares, 1,500 of which have already been acquired. “It will be an engineering and knowledge hub with a focus on auto,” says B B Swain, vice-chairman and managing director, GIDC. The statutory body charged with overseeing Gujarat’s industrialization has already allotted 450 acres near the Nano factory to Ford, and another 150 to Ford vendors. Names of other auto majors – Maruti, Peugeot – are in the air.
None of this can take place without the acquisition of agricultural land from Sanand’s farmers. Undoubtedly, GIDC is offering farmers in this area an attractive price — Rs 1,200 per square metre, or Rs 1.2 crore per hectare. To use the local measure, this works out to Rs 28.53 lakh per bigha, and the smallest landholding that TOI came across was of nine bighas.
Many farmers are certainly more than happy to sell their land. Bol village, closest to Tata’sNano motorcar plant, was the first to sell its land. Nearby Hirapur is, in small bits, coming round.
“Farming is hard work with low returns. Ours is a joint family of 17 members, and with nine bighas, we would have no savings at the end of the year,” says Hirapur resident Raghubhai Patel (25), as he watches his brand new flatscreen TV in a one room of his two-floorbungalow that is under construction.
However, beyond these muchreported stories of Sanand farmers who got rich overnight are those of the farmers who don’t want to. For, even though GIDC is paying over four times the price per bigha that the Greater Noida authority offered farmers, the fact remains that Sanand’s farmers too do not have the option not to sell. “What we are doing is en bloc acquisition. Most farmers are happy to sell, and in these cases there is a ‘consent award’ in which we pay Rs 1,200 per square metre. However, if for some reason the land cannot be acquired by consent, GIDC has to go for a ‘regular award’ which is a substantially lower price,” says Swain. What this means is that farmers who do not want to sell their land will find it deemed acquired at the end of an as-yet-unspecified period of time, after which they can claim compensation from the court at a rate far less than they would have got if they hadn’t held out.
It is not that such farmers do not exist. Some, like Hirapur’s Jalabhai Patel, say that they are waiting for a higher price. Others, like sarpanch Kantibhai Rathod, say they simply do not want to sell their land. “This is land irrigated by the Narmada. It is rich and we can count on it. I am my own boss. I don’t want to lose it,” says Rathod. His son Kiran is in Class X. “I want to study ahead but I also want to keep farming. I don’t want the money,” he adds. Kantibhai Prajapati, who is taking his buffalo out to graze with his son Prateek, points to his seven bighas of land where rice stalks poke through the submerged fields. “What will I do with money? I want to feed my children, and for that I need my land. I am not going to sell it,” he says.
The new draft Land Acquisition Bill, which governs all land acquisition, does not protect farmers from the government acquiring land for such “public purposes” as industrialisation, as in the case of the GIDC hub. While a previous draft said that multi-crop irrigated land, as all of Sanand’s land is, would not be acquired even for public purposes, the draft cleared by the Cabinet allows such acquisition too.

No comments: