India: Farmers and state governments at war over land

Many Indian states are trying to attract foreign capital through tax holidays and cheap land. However, hundreds of rural communities are been uprooted for little compensation. When residents take to the streets to protest, they are often attacked by police…

New Delhi – India’s economic development is turning into a virtual land war between poor farmers, who rely on agriculture as their sole source of earning, and investors who want to build industrial plants and residential projects. The conflict is made worse by laws dating back to British colonial rule still on the books.

Recent news reports have highlighted clashes between foreign investors and rural residents. A number of companies have been accused of grabbing land, including JayPee Infratech in Uttar Pradesh for the Yamuna expressway, South Korea’s POSCO for planning to build an industrial plant on farmland in Orissa and AREVA of France for its activity in Jaitapur. The authorities have generally protected business interests and sent police to crush protests.

In Bhatta Parsual, Greater Noida (Uttar Pradesh), Jaiprakash Associates bought about 2,400 hectares of land to build luxury townships and sports facilities, including a Formula 1 racetrack, in the guise of building the Yamuna Expressway. In total, the land of 1,225 villages must be acquired for the 165-kilometre expressway.

The government is using the Land Acquisition Act, an 1894 colonial law that gives the state broad powers to expropriate land restricting the rights of rural communities to resist.

In this case, the government bought land at 300 rupees (US$ 6) per square metre, not enough for farmers to buy a new home or live on. For the elderly the loss of their traditional life is particularly traumatic.

However, the expropriated land was eventually re-sold by developers at 600,000 rupees, or US$13,450, a metre, a 200,000 per cent increase in price.

In the end, the land grab has led to greater poverty, dispossession and conflict. Dispossessed farmers have taken to the streets to make their case. On 7 May, clashes with police left four people dead.

In Jaitapur (Maharashtra), France’s Areva plans to build a nuclear plant to provide cheap energy. Residents are opposed. On 18 April, police fired on protesters killing one and leaving six seriously injured.

Things are worse in Jagatsinghpur, Orissa, where residents have fought for the past five years POSCO’s plan to build a steel mill. This week, the authorities deployed 20 battalions of army troops and police to stop their protest.

The government wants to destroy 40 betel farms a day to facilitate the land grab. Betel brings the farmers annual earnings worth 400,000 rupees an acre.

In India, 65 per cent of the people are dependent on land, government statistics indicate. Land for them is where they live and where they work. In small rural areas, it is the basis for social relations and solidarity throughout one’s life.

Foreign investors want instead free or cheap land to build factories, residential areas, highways or plantations for bio fuels. For them, farmland is easier to grab than forests and other less populated areas.

In India, state governments are establishing Special Economic Zones to attract foreign capital. They have granted land for free or at low costs as well as provided investors with low taxes or tax holidays.

Even international organisations like the World Bank have funded road and port construction without taking into account the needs of local residents. Even compensation cannot pay for losing home, farmland, lifestyle and social relations.

Asia News

June 11, 2011

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