Land Grab and the Lie of ‘Employment, Development’
The Modi Government’s Land Acquisition Ordinance nullifies the need for consent and social impact assessment for land acquisition for industrial corridors, security, rural infrastructure, housing and related infrastructure, and social infrastructure including projects under government and PPP models. Thus defined, the category of ‘exemptions from consent and social impact assessment’ is so broad and sweeping that it effectively opens the flood gate for land grab without consent by any public/private entity under any pretext!
The condition under Section 101 of the 2013 law, which requires that land not used for 5 years be returned to the owner, has been altered thus: “The time limit which has been set for a project or 5 years, whichever is later”. This opens the doors for real estate mafia to acquire land, sit on it, and then sell it when the land prices have shot up.
To justify the urgency of this Land Grab Ordinance, the Modi Government has claimed that land acquisition for industry and infrastructure is necessary to generate jobs and promote development.
The CAG Performance Audit Report on Special Economic Zones exposes the fact that land grab under the ‘public purpose’ clause has resulted in massive diversion of land for commercial real estate purposes, and that the claims of generating jobs and development have been a big lie. The Land Grab Ordinance is only setting the stage for more scams on the lines of the SEZ Scam, that will loot land and impoverish peasants to fill corporate real estate coffers.
CAG Report (2014) Exposes SEZ Scam
The SEZ Act 2005 (as well as SEZ Acts in states such as Odisha and West Bengal, enacted prior to the 2005 national act) all claimed to be a panacea for ‘development’. People’s movements resisting land grab for SEZs (at Raigad, Kalinganagar, Nandigram and Jagatsinghpur, and other places) have been met with firing and repression, and been branded as ‘enemies’ of development and employment-generation. The colonial 1894 Land Acquisition Act facilitated such land grab, deeming that farmers’ consent was not needed as long as land was acquired for ‘public purpose’.
The CAG Report lays bare the truth – that the people’s movements were right and the pro-corporate Governments were liars.
The CAG Report observes:
“Though the objective of the SEZ is employment generation, investment, exports and economic growth, however, the trends of the national databases on economic growth of the country, trade, infrastructure, investment, employment etc do not indicate any significant impact of the functioning of the SEZs on the economic growth.
“Out of 45635.63 ha of land notified in the country for SEZ purposes, operations commenced in only 28488.49 ha (62.42 %) of land. In addition, we noted a trend wherein developers approached the government for allotment/purchase of vast areas of land in the name of SEZ. However, only a fraction of the land so acquired was notified for SEZ and later de notification was also resorted to within a few years to benefit from price appreciation. In terms of area of land, out of 39245.56 ha of land notified in the six States, 5402.22 ha (14%) of land was de notified and diverted for commercial purposes in several cases. Many tracts of these lands were acquired invoking the ‘public purpose’ clause. Thus land acquired was not serving the objectives of the SEZ Act.”
Vast areas of land were acquired for ‘public purpose’ SEZs. But most of the land remained unused and were later diverted for commercial real estate purposes. This is a scam of massive proportions, and concerned Chief Ministers and the then Prime Minister ought to be criminally prosecuted for this scam.
The CAG report also notes the environmental violations of the coastal Adani SEZ in Gujarat, in which both the then Modi-led State Government and the UPA Government were complicit, and which fisherpeople’s and farmers’ groups in Gujarat had exposed.
The Land Grab Ordinance now again aims to do exactly what the SEZ scam achieved – grab land without peasants’ consent in the name of ‘public purpose’, and divert that land for real estate profits. This is why the five-year time limit for using acquired land is also being scrapped.
SEZs fail to generate economic growth, jobs, infrastructure, investment. Those were just lies to justify robbing peasants of land and India of its food security. The same lies are being peddled in favour of the Land Grab Ordinance now.
The CAG report also tries to calculate the massive amount spent on SEZs in terms of sops, tax exemptions, and so on (Rs 1.76 lakh crore, according to 83rd Report of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce on Functioning of SEZs, June 2007) but recognizes that tax sops are actually even more massive since they were ‘hidden’ and disguised.
In fact SEZs robbed India’s poor peasants and adivasis of land, livelihood and jobs on a massive scale. The CAG report indicates the incalculable cost borne by the nation, of this massive loot of jobs, fertile fields, environment villages, lives and food security.
Today on 23rd February, on the call of the All India Kisan Mahasabha, gram sabhas all over the country met to pass resolutions demanding scrapping of the Land Grab Ordinance and an end to the moves to curtail MNREGA and Food Security coverage. These resolutions will be submitted to the President of India and Lok Sabha Speaker following the Jan Sansad in Delhi by people’s movements on 16th March, following the launch of the All India People’s Forum.