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Fighting hunger without farmlands
By Devinder Sharma

Policymakers and supporters of land acquisition for so-called development projects do not realise that by diverting good productive farm land for non-agricultural purposes, they are pushing the next generation into hunger and malnutrition.


Farmers and their families protesting against forced land acquisition

Isn’t it ironic? Every young person works hard to earn enough to afford a decent house. It is a dream for every young couple to own a small patch of land, which is the best economic security one can have. And those who have the land with them, and most of them live in the countryside, are being forcibly evicted from their meagre land holdings. How can the same piece of land be seen as an economic security for the rich and a wasted resource for the poor? How can the society be having two separate yardstick of growth – one for the rich and another for the poor?

The resistance to land acquisition therefore is quite natural. What we are witnessing in Greater Noida, Aligarh, Agra, Allahabad and Mathura in Uttar Pradesh or Mansa in Punjab or Jaitapur in Maharashtra or Mangalore in Karnataka in the recent times is merely symbolic. Forced acquisition of land has already seen rural fury bursting at the seams. Whether we like it or not, rural India is on a boil and is ready to battle against land acquisitions.

Take for instance Madhya Pradesh which otherwise seems relatively calm and untouched by the turmoil that is being witnessed across the country. In just five years, violent protests against forcible takeover of land have multiplied from 67 in 2005 to 252 in 2009.

Far away from the glare of the national media, pitched battles are being fought across the country by the poor and deprived, who fear further marginalisation when their land is literally grabbed by the government on behalf of the industry. Although the media, policy makers and the politicians are projecting it as a struggle for a higher compensation, the fact remains that a majority of farmers do not want to part with their land.

Such are the powerful economic interests that it will not be wrong to assume that many Chief Ministers have for all practical purposes become property dealers. Thanks to the economists, the argument that industry is important for economic growth is coming in handy to usurp the land, water and natural resources.

We often accuse the builder-industrialist-politician nexus to be responsible for the turmoil over land. A new player has now joined the team of exploiters. Ever since economists/planners began telling us that land is an economic asset and it is in hands of people who are inefficient, there has been literally a scramble by business and industry (driven by real estate) to procure as much land as possible. Surprisingly, it is the World Bank which is backing this strategy, and if you have read the World Development Report 2008, you would know what I mean. It calls for land rentals, and setting up a network of training centres to train the displaced farmers to become industrial workers.

State governments across the country are facilitating the process of takeover. Whether it is for the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) or IT parks or nuclear reactors or airports or building a new capital or even for bio-fuel plantations, the battle for land has become fierce. Such are the powerful economic interests that it will not be wrong to assume that many Chief Ministers have for all practical purposes become property dealers. Thanks to the economists, the argument that industry is important for economic growth is coming in handy to usurp the land, water and natural resources.

Over the years agriculture has been deliberately turned into a losing proposition as a result of which many farmers want to move out provided they get a better price for their land. This has happened not only in India, but globally. It is primarily for this reason that even in a highly subsidised Europe, where farmers receive direct income support, every minute one farmer is forced to quit farming. Agriculture is increasingly coming in the grip of big agribusiness. The same trend is being blindly adopted in India, which alone has over 10-crore farm families.

While good productive farm land is being diverted for non-agricultural purposes, I see no mention of the resulting disaster awaiting the nation as far as food security is concerned. Take UP, which is endowed with fertile Indo-Gangetic plains. As per rough estimates, 6.6 million hectares that would be taken out of farming which would mean a production loss of 14 million tonnes of foodgrains. In other words, Uttar Pradesh will be faced with a terrible food crisis in the years to come, the seeds for which are being sown now. Who will feed UP is the question that no one is asking.

What is not being realised is that UP alone will send all the estimates of the proposed National Food Security Act go topsy-turvy. You cannot build an economic superpower on hungry stomachs. The need of the hour therefore is to immediately ban the conversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes. This has to be followed with a Comprehensive Development Planning Act that is people-friendly and replaces the draconian Land Acquisition Act 1894.

The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.

Devinder Sharma  |  hunger55@gmail.com

Devinder Sharma is an award-winning journalist, writer, and researcher globally recognised for his analysis on food, agriculture and trade policy. 

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Feedback /Comments on this article
Blame the government, not the builders

It is the government representatives who always try to make the deal with the pvt company. You know the situation, till 2000 no person or company was eligible for any piece of land in noida if their factory was not there. Now every body including judiciary or administrative, is dying for the plots in Noida. Who made Noida a residential hub, only U P Govt. The whole purpose of establishing a industrial town got defeated. Now dalals have captured the industrial plots and they are not working for Industry, they are looking for deal only.

Posted By: Bikram
Dated: Friday, May 13, 2011

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The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

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An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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