As with industry bodies elsewhere, those in Tamil Nadu say the central government’s proposed land acquisition bill unduly favours farmers at their expense, a sentiment shared in government policy making circles.
Land acquisition is not considered a political problem in this state, as there has been no major controversy on the issue, while industrial growth has prospered. The thinking in official circles is that the state would bring its own bill in this regard, building on its own pro-industry past.
Farmers’ views, that the definition of ‘public purpose’ in the new central legislation is actually too vague and wide in permitting forcible acquisition, finds few takers from business or government.
The local chapter of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) says: “We welcome the fact that rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) is being dealt with land acquisition comprehensively in the same piece of legislation, and that implicitly the government has clearly spelt out that beyond a reasonable threshold, land acquisition for public purpose would be done by the government...(but) the costs have to be reasonable for industry to remain viable.”
The provision that has irked corporates most is the new bill’s provisions that land owners should be paid four times the market value of land in rural areas and twice the market value in urban areas.
N K Ranganathan, chairman of CII, Tamil Nadu, said this may make it “completely impossible for industry to acquire land at affordable prices. Farmers’ welfare should be taken into account, but not at the cost of industry, which will witness a six-nine times increase in land acquisition cost.” Land acquisition is now governed by the Tamil Nadu Acquisition of Land for Industrial Purposes Act, 1999. Over the years, the state government through bodies like the State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu (Sipcot) and Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Council (Tidco) have acquired thousands of acres for industrial growth.
Ranganathan says the government should set up a Land Development Organisation, with representatives from government, industry and land owners. The state government seems of the view that the Centre’s Bill would harm industry. A land policy is supposed to be ready in another month, to set acquisition rates slightly higher than market value, but not as high as in the Centre’s draft. The government has said it will also set up a land bank to make this available for industry.
Farmers have other views. V Perumal, from Sriperumbudur, one of the most industrialised hubs in the state, said,
“This Bill is regressive, since the definition of public purpose covers almost everything, from building educational institutions to airports to mining.” On the acquisition record, he says: Sriperumbudur and (nearby) Oragadam were fertile lands. Whenever land has been acquired for industrial purposes and there were hints of protest, the government effectively used its administrative powers to suppress the protest. While it is true that compensation is above the market price, the fact is that agricultural land, once taken away, can never be got back. Once the money received is spent, farmers become daily wage workers and hardly earn as much as they used to.”
Thervoy, close to this city, is seeing some protests over acquisition at the site where Michelin is setting up a Rs 4,000-crore facility. Farmers allege fertile land is being forcefully acquired for industry. The South Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements, in a letter to Jairam Ramesh, Union minister for rural development, said “the Bill does not address genuine public purposes such as rural development, agriculture, eco restoration, land for the landless, rights of forest dwellers and tribals, etc. Instead, it is completely biased towards facilitating industrialisation”. Adding: “The definition of public purpose is absolutely unacceptable.”