In the past three years, protests by farmers against land acquisition have raged in 40 of India's 610 districts, reports the Times of India. Spread across 17 Indian states, the affected districts are home to some 100 million people, the paper said.
The acquisition of land for industrial projects from farmers and villagers using the country's colonial era laws of eminent domain has brought as many as 400,000 acres into dispute and killed dozens.
The bottom line: It's down to government incompetence. It's not only that many states are actively using state power to skim a fat margin off land deals -- acquiring land from the people cheaply, by force, and selling it to industry at a healthy profit, or in exchange for a cheap price and a big bag of cash on the side. It's that the people's supposed representatives at the central level have failed to reform the law to set a clear policy that both facilitates industrialization and protects property rights.
Why can't this incendiary situation be resolved? In 2007, the Centre attempted to replace the obsolete land acquisition law, which allows the government to acquire land for "public purpose" at cheaper rates and which was the cause of much anger among duped farmers who would see their land being further sold by the government at 8 to 10 times the price. But the new law never got through Rajya Sabha. In 2009, President Pratibha Patil in her address to the new Lok Sabha announced that it would be reintroduced.
The amendment to the existing land acquisition law was accompanied by a rehabilitation and resettlement policy. The package proposed only 30% of land would be acquired by the government while the balance would have to be negotiated by buyers directly with the farmers. It was suggested farmers should be given the option of getting 20% of the compensation in the form of debentures in the company.
Meanwhile several new 'models' of sweetening the deal for angry farmers have emerged. The Supreme Court, which has been petitioned in several cases, suggested that gram sabhas should be involved failing which no land should be acquired. The Haryana government announced a new deal in which higher compensation rates, a minimum floor rate, a 33-year inflation linked royalty, and a job were offered. In West Bengal, after the bitter experience of Singur and Nandigram, the erstwhile Left Front government had offered a new deal for Sunderbans farmers which included compensation for both registered and unregistered sharecroppers. In addition, work for 340 days under the employment guarantee scheme and houses under the Indira Awas Yojana would be given to them.
The bottomline is that even today, after nearly a decade of land protests, there is still no clear policy either in law or in practice. As a result, farmers, already weighed down by unremunerative agriculture, are torn between losing their land and making ends meet.