In India, Development Fuels Disputes Over Land

Protests against land acquisitions are soaring in India as the country’s restless economy increasingly encroaches on traditional landowners and ways of life — at times with violent results

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Tsering Topgyal / AP

Farmers from India’s Haryana state cross a main road as they take out a protest against the land acquisition by the Haryana government in New Delhi, March 5, 2013.

On a warm spring afternoon, New Delhi’s famous India Gate is a quiet place. Cars and buses cruise the wide road that runs under the stately memorial, where a few well-dressed tourists pose for pictures. Rows of colorful boats bob on a nearby lake.

And then there’s Babaji Jana. For the past year, Jana has been lying on a footpath in front of India Gate, staging a silent protest against officials who, he says, forcibly took his land. Shirtless and in dirty gray trousers, the 43-year-old farmer from the eastern state of Orissa holds the Indian flag as he recounts how his local district council confiscated part of his 6-hectare plot to build a road and sold the rest off. He was not given compensation, so he brought his protest to the nation’s capital. “I used to be a landowner, and now I am on the streets,” says Jana.

(MORE: Are India’s Farmers Victims of a Global Land Rush?)

He is far from alone. Protests against land acquisitions are soaring in India as the country’s restless economy increasingly encroaches on traditional landowners and ways of life — at times with violent results. In 2007, when the Marxist government of West Bengal unveiled plans to take over land in Nandigram for a chemical park, villagers clashed with government forces. The violence lasted over a year, killing 14 people and injuring many more. In 2011, bloody protests broke out in Orissa over the construction of a road as part of a massive steel-mill project. Women and children formed a human chain to prevent work from going ahead.

The landgrab protests, analysts say, are likely to worsen. In 2011, there were protests in 130 districts in the country. A report released in December predicts a major rise in similar conflicts all over India by local communities in the coming decade in protest of landgrab. The report, prepared by the Washington-based Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) and the Society for Promotion of Wastelands Development, blames India’s government agencies and private investors for the growing spate of clashes. “The government’s own acquisitions for different industrial development [and] mining projects show that they will require at least 11 million hectares more by 2025,” says Arvind Khare, RRI’s executive director. “With the kind of protests and violence we have seen because of the 4.6 million [hectares of land acquired by the government to date], can you imagine the nature of protests when another 11 million is grabbed?”

(PHOTOS: Nationwide Strike Hits India’s Teeming Cities)

In an interview with TIME last year, India’s Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said while land acquisition is essential for development, the government has to weigh up the need for development and the interests of local residents. “You cannot put up a factory or a hydroelectric project or mine minerals unless you have land,” Chidambaram told TIME. What he describes as a balanced land-acquisition bill is now being debated in Parliament, but many already criticize the legislation for not taking into account the interests of millions of people who are dependent on the forests, pastures or common lands to which long-standing custom, but not statute, grants them rights. (There is some legislation to protect the rights of India’s indigenous forest communities, but major infrastructure projects are exempt from its strictures.)

“If you really start looking at the struggle and violence and conflicts taking place in rural areas, you will find that most of those conflicts where protests are getting more organized and more violent are those that are on the common land,” says Khare, who has championed land rights around the world for more than three decades. “These are the people who are not covered by the present legislation or the legislation the government is talking about.”

Until they are, men like Jana will continue his protests. “I have nothing left to lose,” he says, “so I will continue my protest till my last breath.” Unfortunately, not every protest will as peaceful.

MORE: What Must India Do to Realize Its Economic Potential? Think Big. Act Bold

3 comments
vaishnavjagdip
vaishnavjagdip

Indian Govt failed to control illegal immigrant, land encroachments ,  do not take timely action upon unauthorized occupants / land encroaches

 Demand -supply gap has widen the demand for a land, open land /space are not covered up with fences ,& price of land has gone

up too high which does not permitt present occupants to vacate.  Govt sale plot of land at throw away price to private parties.

elcidharth
elcidharth


Indian investors are forcing Ethiopians off their land

Thousands of Ethiopians are being relocated or have already fled as their land is sold off to foreign investors without their consent

Farm workers remove weeds from young plants at the palm oil plantation owned by Karuturi Global, near the town of Bako, in Ethiopia. Photograph: Jose Cendon/Getty Images

Ethiopia's leasing of 600,000 hectares (1.5m acres) of prime farmland to Indian companies has led to intimidation, repression, detentions, rapes, beatings, environmental destruction, and the imprisonment of journalists and political objectors, according to a new report.

Research by the US-based Oakland Institute suggests many thousands of Ethiopians are in the process of being relocated or have fled to neighbouring countries after their traditional land has been handed to foreign investors without their consent. The situation is likely to deteriorate further as companies start to gear up their operations and the government pursues plans to lease as much as 15% of the land in some regions, says Oakland.

In a flurry of new reports about global "land grabbing" this week, Oxfam said on Thursday that investors were deliberately targeting the weakest-governed countries to buy cheap land. The 23 least-developed countries of the world account for more than half the thousands of recorded deals completed between 2000 and 2011, it said. Deals involving approximately 200m ha of land are believed to have been negotiated, mostly to the advantage of speculators and often to the detriment of communities, in the past few years.

In what is thought to be one of the first "south-south" demonstrations of concern over land deals, this week Ethiopian activists came to Delhi to urge Indian investors and corporations to stop buying land and to actively prevent human rights abuses being committed by the Ethiopian authorities.

"The Indian government and corporations cannot hide behind the Ethiopian government, which is clearly in violation of human rights laws," said Anuradha Mittal, director of the Oakland Institute. "Foreign investors must conduct impact assessments to avoid the adverse impacts of their activities."

Ethiopian activists based in UK and Canada warned Indian investors that their money was at risk. "Foreign investors cannot close their eyes. When people are pushed to the edge they will fight back. No group knows this better than the Indians", said Obang Metho, head of grassroots social justice movement Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (SMNE), which claims 130,000 supporters in Ethiopia and elsewhere.

Speaking in Delhi, Metho said: "Working with African dictators who are stealing from the people is risky, unsustainable and wrong. We welcome Indian investment but not [this] daylight robbery. These companies should be accountable under Indian law."

Nyikaw Ochalla, director of the London-based Anywaa Survival Organisation, said: "People are being turned into day labourers doing backbreaking work while living in extreme poverty. The government's plans ... depend on tactics of displacement, increased food insecurity, destitution and destruction of the environment."

Ochall, who said he was in daily direct contact with communities affected by "land grabbing" across Ethiopia, said the relocations would only add to hunger and conflict.

"Communities that have survived by fishing and moving to higher ground to grow maize are being relocated and say they are now becoming dependent on government for food aid. They are saying they will never leave and that the government will have to kill them. I call on the Indian authorities and the public to stop this pillage."

Karuturi Global, the Indian farm conglomerate and one of the world's largest rose growers, which has leased 350,000 ha in Gambella province to grow palm oil, cereals maize and biofuel crops for under $1.10 per hectare per year, declined to comment. A spokesman said: "This has nothing to do with us."

Ethiopia has leased an area the size of France to foreign investors since 2008. Of this, 600,000 ha has been handed on 99-year leases to 10 large Indian companies. Many smaller companies are believed to have also taken long leases. Indian companies are said to be investing about $5bn in Ethiopian farmland, but little is expected to benefit Ethiopia directly. According to Oakland, the companies have been handed generous tax breaks and incentives as well as some of the cheapest land in the world.

The Ethiopian government defended its policies. "Ethiopia needs to develop to fight poverty, increase food supplies and improve livelihoods and is doing so in a sustainable way," said a spokeswoman for the government in London. She pointed out that 45% of Ethiopia's 1.14m sq km of land is arable and only 15% is in use.

The phenomenon of Indian companies "grabbing" land in Africa is an extension of what has happened in the last 30 years in India itself, said Ashish Kothari, author of a new book on the growing reach of Indian businesses.

"In recent years the country has seen a massive transfer of land and natural resources from the rural poor to the wealthy. Around 60 million people have been displaced in India by large scale industrial developments. Around 40% of the people affected have been indigenous peoples," he said.

These include dams, mines, tourist developments, ports, steel plants and massive irrigation schemes.

According to Oakland, the Ethiopian "land rush" is part of a global phenomenon that has seen around 200m ha of land leased or sold to foreign investors in the past three years.

The sales in Africa, Latin America and Asia have been led by farm conglomerates, but are backed by western hedge and pension funds, speculators and universities. Many Middle East governments have backed them with loans and guarantees.

Barbara Stocking, the chief executive of Oxfam, which is holding a day of action against land grabs on Thursday, called on the World Bank to temporarily freeze all land investments in large scale agriculture to ensure its policies did not encourage land grabs.

"Poor governance allows investors to secure land quickly and cheaply for profit. Investors seem to be cherry-picking countries with weak rules and regulations because they are easy targets. This can spell disaster for communities if these deals result in their homes and livelihoods being grabbed."

Oxfam will be placing huge "Sold" signs on the Sydney harbour bridge, the Lincoln memorial in Washington and the Colosseum in Rome to mark its action day.

• This article was amended on 11 February 2013 to correct the figure given for the area of Ethiopia. The original said 1.14m sq miles. This has been corrected to say 1.14m sq km.