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LAND ACQUISITION ISSUES FOR INDUSTRIAL PROJECTS

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A number of power, mining and industrial projects have been delayed or even given up in recent years due to land acquisition issues.
One of the recent instances was the objection to the acquisition  of 2000 acres of  agricultural  land sought by Tata group for setting up Titanium dioxide project in Tamil Nadu. The project was ultimately given up. The prolonged agitation now happening against the POSCO project in Orissa is another instance.  GAIL India’s natural gas pipeline project from Kochi-Bangalore –Mangalore  is facing  hard resistance from agricultural farmers in Tamil Nadu at present .
In all these and several other projects, it can be seen that the project promoters and the government have resorted to wishful thinking that by paying hefty compensation amount to the farmers  and land owners, the land can be acquired without any issue. This approach has been proved wrong.
When  the agricultural land would be acquired for industrial projects, the livelihood and future security of thousands of poor agricultural families are affected.    In today’s inflationary conditions, a few lakhs of rupees of compensation are not viewed as substitute by the farmers for the stable income that they would get by cultivation of land.  Further, the farming community  lack any other expertise except agricultural operations and naturally they fear that they would be left nowhere in the absence of the agricultural land in which they have been cultivating traditionally and to which they are emotionally attached.
While the Government of India has been trying to evolve certain policies and guidelines for acquisition of land for industrial projects  that would avoid confrontation , the  policy  so far framed is largely  oriented towards the size of the compensation amount and extending some schemes such as jobs for one or two persons in the affected families. The farmers and displaced persons are justifiably not impressed by such palliative measures of the government.
It can also be seen that in several cases , the promoters of the industrial projects have shown lack of understanding about the intricate  and human issues involved and appear to think that they can browbeat  the  local people and “drive them away from the scene” , with money power and muscle power.
Lack of forward planning :
Look at the GAIL’s Kochi-Bangalore-Mangalore pipeline project. The pipelines are sought to be laid in Tamil Nadu through thousands of acres of  agricultural land,  that  would directly affect the livelihood of farmers , whose lifeline is based on cultivation in such agricultural land. GAIL says  that it would pay compensation for the land six to seven times more than the value of the land. The farmers are not impressed by such “value addition”.  GAIL  further says that it would not be  permanent land acquisition but the land would be returned to the farmers after laying the underground  pipeline, which would be one to two metres below the ground level. The farmers fear that the quality of the soil may be affected  due to the laying of the pipeline underground  and in some case,  the roots of the plantations may  go below one metre.  Further, in the case of any maintenance requirement in the pipeline later on, the authorities may have to re dig the land and take out over the pipelines for relaying.  These are all justifiable apprehensions of the experienced  and genuine farmers.
In this particular case of GAIL’s pipeline project, it certainly would be possible to avoid laying the underground pipelines through agricultural farm lands  and  they can be routed on the highways.   Why  has GAIL not thought about this option before  ?  Why has GAIL  not anticipated the likely apprehensions and resistance from the farming community  ?   Lack of forward planning on the part of the GAIL authorities is clearly evident. Obviously, they have taken such issues for granted. Now, GAIL says that it would take more time and more cost to reroute the pipeline, which appears to be the inevitable alternative. GAIL should be made accountable for this lapse of not working out pragmatic and appropriate  strategy by way of forward planning,  instead of blaming the farmers.
Need for cost benefit analysis :
Time has come for the country to realistically choose between agricultural operations and industrial projects , whenever such acquisition issues occur. It is also seen that in most cases of land acquisition for industrial projects , the area of land sought is much larger than the actual requirement.  A careful study of the land need , based on  optimum design of the plant lay out is very much needed and this aspect has to be carefully audited from the point of view of technology requirements.  There is suspicion when the companies ask for more land than that is really needed ,  which may be with an eye on the appreciation of the futuristic land value and speculation. 
It is high time that we   should realise that the sacrifice of agricultural lands for the sake of industrial projects can become counter productive in the long run.  It is necessary to understand that the long term social and economic stability  of the country that the agricultural operations  provide can be  much more than the industrial projects.  Many well meaning people think that in a country where large segment of population find it hard to get one square meal a day, it is ridiculous to give up the land used for cultivation of wheat, rice , cereals  etc. and use it for producing two wheelers and four wheelers.
While industrial projects are necessary ,  the question is whether it should be promoted at any cost and particularly at the cost of agricultural production and the employment generation that the agricultural operations provide , that would result in displacement of thousands of  poor families. 
It should also be kept in view that thousands of acres of industrial land presently remain unused  all over the country , due to excess acquisition of land for the industrial projects and sick industrial  projects  remaining closed for length of time.  A careful identification of such lands and redeployment of such “wasted land”  for industrial projects is an urgent need  and they should be put to re use for new projects.
The ball is clearly in the court of the Government of India whose efforts to evolve an appropriate land acquisition policy for industrial projects  has proved to be inadequate and not based on ground realities.  It can even be said that the government’s land acquisition policy is insensitive to some extent.
Venkatraman Ns's profile photoBy N.S.Venkataraman
Director : Nandini Consultancy Centre/M 60/1, 4th Cross Street, Besant Nagar,
Chennai-600090
Tel:- 91-44-24916037

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