Where are livelihoods in land acquisition policy?

Is the government trying to push a new land Acquisition Bill without addressing the concerns of the deprived people who stand to lose their livelihoods? Peoples’ movements and social action groups have charged that the cash-based Haryana and Mayawati models of land acquisition are equally ‘dangerous’ for the landless and the deprived people who get uprooted without compensation or rehabilitation.

People’s movements have been demanding that instead of bringing Land Acquisition as well as Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bills, government should come up with a comprehensive and statutory Development Planning Policy. These groups (see the list below) plan to hold a peoples’ parliament (Jan Sansad) and other forms of protest in October, just ahead of the Parliament’s winter session, to highlight the concerns of the landless, the deprived sections and the forest communities that they believe are missing in the Bill.
The land Acquisition Bill seems ready for likely introduction in the forthcoming winter session of Parliament. After being introduced in the Lok Sabha, the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill was allowed to lapse in 2009 due to lack of political consensus. Following violent protests in and around the area under Yamuna Expressway in UP, the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently assured the Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi that the amended Bill shall be re-introduced in the winter session.  

However, instead of reassuring the civil society, the government’s alacrity has alarmed the peoples’ movements. The social groups are coming together because they are afraid that the Bill may be rushed through without addressing the “real concerns” of the land and forest owning communities.

In a detailed critique of the last draft of the Bill introduced in the 14th Lok Sabha, the civil society groups have said the earlier draft had “dismissed a long process of participation, consultation, contribution and inputs over the last few years.” These groups have put forth four non-negotiable principles for any future policy:
(They say that these have “emerged through decades of discussion and debate among people’s movements across the country.”)

•    The legislation must recognize people’s individual and community rights over natural resources, including land.

•    Options assessment must be part of the project planning process and it must begin at the smallest unit, i.e., the Gram Sabha/ Basti Sabha.

•    No displacement without ‘prior informed consent’ should be acceptable in case of any of the affected populations.

•    Rehabilitation implies a social, economic and cultural alternative way of life and hence can’t be attained without an alternative livelihood, which needs to be land-based for agricultural populations, forest dwellers and nomadic communities.  

The peoples’ movements and social action groups have been criticizing the current development paradigm for only looking after the interests of capital and ignoring the rights of local communities. Now they are demanding that the people who lose their land/ forests/ other natural resources should be recognized as ‘investors’ and interests of landless masses who earn their livelihood in the traditional economy also must be safeguarded. They have asked government that it must recognize the role and importance of ‘human capital’ in development and give its rightful due.  
The activists point out that the prevalent thinking regarding the rehabilitation and resettlement pays no attention towards the miseries of those who have no documents to prove their ownership right over the natural resources, but have always depended on them for livelihoods. The following segments of population have never figured in compensation or rehabilitation policies of the goverments:

•    Whenever land acquisition takes place in the hilly areas, large tracts of land are taken away from the herdsmen where their animals have been grazing for ages. Consequently these herdsmen lose their livelihood, but they are never compensated.  

•    A case in point is that of Assam, where 168 dams are to be built. It is well known that due to dams fishermen of downstream areas lose their livelihood due to non-availability of catch there. No policy till date has talked about the rights of downstream population.

•    Customary laws of X and XI schedule areas have constitutional recognition in India. But under the land acquisition and R&R policies these practices are totally ignored. In the many hilly areas traditionally no one possesses the land owning documents as there is a custom of collective ownership. Hence, people’s entitlement of compensation is grossly violated whenever land is acquired there. In Assam planes, people with ownership documents have been given Rs. 70,000 for a Bigha of land, but people in hilly areas have been given as low as Rs. 16,000 for that much of land.

•    There is no basis for the valuation of land in the hilly areas. Land there is full of vegetations, herbs, water sources, etc. These invaluable things are lost when land is acquired for ‘development’ purposes. It’s almost impossible to compensate for these natural gifts as for the people residing there, these form a part of their way of life.

•    The landless labourers, village craftsmen, herdsmen, etc. also earn their livelihood working in local communities. But the govt. never thinks to compensate or rehabilitate them. There is still no provision for these people in the proposed Bill.

The social action groups and the people’s movements have demanded these issues must be resolved in the new legislation. They are also opposed to the provision for acquisition of land for the private companies under the definition of ‘public purpose’. They have demanded that the current practice of 70:30 per cent (70% by private company and 30% by the govt.) land acquisition for private companies should be done away with. Simultaneously, they want that following aspects must be spelt out clearly in the proposed legislation:

-    Development goals of the country as a reference point for defining the public purpose, which has been defined too loosely for the benefit of private interests until now.

-    The planning process including option assessments and criteria for choice.

-    The democratic structure and administrative mechanisms that would be adopted

-    The process which should be based on India’s domestic and international human rights commitments

-    Just and fair rehabilitation- in principle, provisions and process.

Organizations like, Narmada Bachao ndolan, Himalaya Niti Abhiyan, Bhoomi Bachao Andolan, Nadi Ghati morcha, Ghar Bhachao-Ghar Banao Andolan, National Hawkers Federation, NFFPFW and INSAF and activists like Medha Patkar, BD Sharma, Prafulla Samantara have endorsed these demands.

For more information pl go to the following links:




Constitutional Validity of the Land Acquisition Act, 1984

Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill: A slow but sure step forward


Haryana: Policy regarding acquisition of land for private deployment and in public-private partnership for setting up of Special Economic Zones


Policy for Rehabilitation and Resettlement of Land Owners, Land Acquisition Oustee, http://huda.nic.in/oust.htm

UP new land acquisition Policy


Land Acquisition (Amendment) Act 2007


Land Acquisition for Development Projects in India,

To not land in trouble by Pranab Bardhan, The Hindustan Times, 24 September, 2010, http://www.hindustantimes.com/To-not-land-in-trouble/H1-Ar

Farmers' fury by TK Rajalakshmi, Frontline, Volume 27, Issue 20, 25 September-08 October, 2010, http://www.hinduonnet.com/fline/stories/20101008272011800.htm

Court slams U.P.'s land acquisition policy by J Venkatesan, The Hindu, 22 September, 2010, http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/article74

Q+A - India confronts land grabs in industry push by CJ Kuncheria, Reuters, 15 September, 2010, http://in.reuters.com/article/idINIndia-51504220100915

Govt to go slow on expressways after Sonia intervention by Nidhi Sharma, The Economic Times, 13 September, 2010, http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics/nation/G

Miners may’ve to share revenues with displaced by Subhash Narayan & Rohini Singh, The Economic Times, 13 September, 2010, http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/news-by-industry/

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