The astonishing landgrab in India

If you are a builder in India, you have your fingers in the biggest cookie jar of India, especially if you are a builder in Mumbai. A friend commented recently that Mumbai has no policy endorsed by the Govt for making housing affordable – the equivalent of DDA in Delhi. This is because the politicians have nothing going for them in Mumbai other than land, since everything else in Mumbai is commerce which is outside the politicians reach and influence. In Delhi there is still the CWG, or the 2G, or defense etc to take a cut in. Thus the politicians in Mumbai/ Maharashtra are left with no optons but to work with the real estate sector, one of the most opaque sectors in India today. Every major politician in Maharashtra is a big real estate guy himself or in partnership with one. Just as I am about to post this blog, there is this new story in Tehelka on the same issue uncovering the scale of this corruption listing out each politician by name – mind boggling is an understatement.

The conflict of interest is obvious – how do you expect the same politician to enact laws that kill his own business?

Another shape that this landgrab is like that of NH17. The development of this so called ‘killer highway’ from Mumbai to goa is being stalled because some influential people have bought land next to the sea, and are lobbying to get a new road that passes closer to their lands rather than expand NH 17. Related version of the same theme is that of some relatives of politicians investing in some cheap land in the middle of nowhere and then ‘coincidentally’ a new airport (or some such) is announced, with a windfall gains for the ‘astute investor’.

Farmers - the roadkill on the path to India's development

Farmers - the roadkill on the path to India's development

In the private sector, investing and speculation using such information would become a crime, and could be punished as insider trading with jail terms – refer to the trial around galleon, while the politicians benefiting from their own policy dosent seem to create any ripple.

An even more tragic aspect of the ongoing Indian landgrab is the the forced land acquisition by the state from the farmers in the name of development. The policy framework that India used is the same that British used to take away the land in India ‘the Land Acquisition Act – 1894’. The terms of this act are unfair to say the least, and if you have been a subsistence farmer then it might well be your death sentence.

…it seems no coincidence that India’s mining heartland is also the Maoist heartland. “If you map the forest wealth, the mineral and the poverty of India, it’s a complete match,” said Sunita Narain, head of the Centre of Science and Environment. The Maoists are gaining support due to the decades-old angst over mining, forest rights, and land acquisition – to spread their influence, through subtle and drastic measures.

I agree with the comment by Shoma Chaudhury, managing editor of Tehelka – war over land in India is not an argument over development, It is an argument about justice

Back in 2007, both media and metropolitan India had denounced the eruptions at Singur and Nandigram as the cynical machinations of Mamata Banerjee playing spoiler. But those events not only helped bring 30 years of CPM rule to a close, they made visible everything that is chronically wrong with land acquisition in India. First, there are the insupportable Acts. The colonial Land Acquisition Act, 1894, forces citizens — if necessary, at gunpoint — to hand over land for undefined “public interest” without consensus, consultation or the right to negotiate highest prices. The SEZ Act allowed industry to get thousands of acres at rock-bottom prices but stipulated that only 30 percent of that had to be used for manufacture, while 70 percent could be deployed for real estate speculation. And “compensation” and “employment” are glib terms trotted out in defence of the colossal land grab underway in the country, but the truth is, until the people of Bengal revolted, there was not even a Relief and Rehabilitation Bill in India.

Land fights happening in Nandigram/ Agra-Noida/ Jaithapur/ Posco/ Enron/ Dadri project etc – suffer from the same set of broad issues- outdated policy framework for land Acquisition, unfair pricing for farmers, heavy handedness of the govt, lack of sensitivity of administration, progressive camp that sees all such debates as regressive, and regressive camp that sees all progress as a threat. So by the end everyone has had their say, there is only confusion left.

We must be gods favorite children that we manage to move forward despite the odds we throw in our own way.

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  1. Mayank says:

    Rahul, if those who have to correct are also the corrupt, how will this move forward. Land Reforms requires more than just will, it requires politicians to shut a revenue stream.. if they do so – how will they fund their elections. At the end its all a vicious cycle. Lokpal bill and many more social movements are the only hope.

    • RB says:

      Agree… need for political parties to fund themselves does promote corruption, but these pressures are there in all democracies, though in India these take a real sinister turn – some of the stories one hears from UP and how the appointees are given a targets to meet are startling; apparently the concretisation of mumbai roads has dried up a large source of Shiv Sena’s revenues coz now there are no more repair contracts to be won! What makes matters worse for India is pursuit of personal gains by politicians, and their greed seems to have no bounds. To expect the same politicians to think of public welfare is asking for too much i think…

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