Landing a coup PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 04 June 2011 00:00
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Competitive politics over land, sharpened by Rahul Gandhi’s attack on the Mayawati government on the Bhatta-Parsaul land acquisition, seems to have been a good thing in retrospect. While the Congress party and the National Advisory Council (NAC) to Sonia Gandhi seem to have learnt the entirely wrong lesson from the anti-land-acquisition agitations, UP chief minister Mayawati has removed many of the problems associated with her earlier policy and its implementation. In the bargain, she seems to have trumped the NAC which, hopefully, will now learn the right lesson—the NAC recommendation is that all land be bought only by government for projects where more than 400 families are affected. Given the pace at which India is growing, it was always obvious land was going to be the big bone of contention. Increasing the share of manufacturing rising from 16% of GDP now to 25% by 2020—as the draft manufacturing policy hopes will happen—will require large tracts of land. Rising urbanisation means that by 2030, 40% of India will be urban; with 270 mn more people likely to move to cities in the next 20 years, McKinsey estimates India needs 700-900 mn square metres of new commercial and residential space, the capacity for roads will have to be raised to 20 times that built in the past decade …

Given this, it was unfortunate the political class wasn’t able to come up with a suitable response. We saw the agitations in Singur and we saw the ones at Bhatta-Parsaul where the government acquired land; but we didn’t see too many where private firms bought the land on their own—surely there’s a lesson there? Haryana came out with a well thought out annuity model that would, apart from giving farmers a one-time capital from land sales, also protected their current incomes; Uttar Pradesh seemed to better this. Except, as we saw from the various land acquisitions that have been struck down by the courts recently, it appears Mayawati’s government was still acquiring land without giving villagers a choice as to whether they wanted to sell—this was being done by abusing the public emergency clause that allows governments to acquire land. This is what Thursday’s announcement has fixed. All land sales will be bilaterally negotiated between buyers and sellers; if land-losers don’t want to lose out on possible appreciation, they can give their land for free but get 16% of it back after the buyer develops it—this way, land-losers have a vested interest in urban development. In addition, all land-losers will get an annuity of R23,000 per acre per year (to protect part of their current income streams) for 33 years and the amount is to be raised by R800 per year. Compensations have also been spelt out for those who lose livelihood but don’t own the land, labourers for instance. A minimum of 80% of villagers have to agree to sell for any land to be sold off. It remains to be seen if the central government now learns the right lesson from Mayawati.


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