‘Development’ versus People – Gujarat model of Land Acquisition and People’s Voices
A report by Behavioural Science Centre, St. Xavier’s College Campus, Ahmedabad
This short study, undertaken in collaboration with number of civil society organisations, has examined the ‘land acquisition’ scenario in Gujarat and its impact on people, especially the marginalised with respect to their quality of life, livelihoods and environment. The study was in the background of projected vibrant Gujarat on path of development with huge land transfers from farmers to industries, farmers to government through various instruments for purposes as varied as infrastructure, coastal and port development and so on. It also involves transfer or sale of commons, gauchars, forest land for ‘public purpose’.
The development discourse and practice has drastically changed after the neo-liberal globalisation. In the neo-globalisation development is redefined and capital oriented growth seems to have taken a predominant place. Industrial growth is encouraged by the state in favour of private players. ‘Public purpose’ is vaguely defined to suit profit and growth.
There are Indians and Gujaratis, few as they may be, who stand for egalitarian development which fosters just and inclusive social order, freedom and equality. The development model vigorously followed in the last decade or more raises questions and concerns in the minds of responsible and responsive citizens. Let me rephrase the questions Ghanshyam Shah asked in 2009 in the context of development induced displacement.
& What is the larger good which is sought in the development pursued under the claimed ‘public purpose’?
& Who decides this – the state? The courts? Industry? The people? The marginalised? The least? The women?
& Is the voice and concerns of the affected heard adequately on a priority basis?
& Does the project reduce or increase inequality, freedom, economic opportunities, self respect and dignity?
The present study says it loud and clear that land acquisition has benefited a few but it has impoverished the masses which sustain themselves on this land resource. People’s lives, culture, traditions, livelihoods and dignified way of living have been eroded by this land acquisition for ‘development’ with hardly any consideration for alternatives to what they have lost and are losing. The study based on empirical and secondary data has found that human communities with a weak voice and historical disadvantage such as Dalits, Adivasis, fisherfolk, agarias, daily and unorganised workers, Muslims and women across these groups are the ones who have paid the price of this kind of development – whether in Kutch and Saurashtra, the coastal areas, south Gujarat, the eastern tribal belt and the central Bhal region.
It is found that development projects have not examined the various kinds of uses people make of the commons and the land government defines as ‘waste’. The government and the private players do not hesitate to manipulate the data and its presentation to suit their interests. There is not enough data available and in number of cases the data is not available even under Right to Information.
This study started out with the intention of examining the impact on the marginalised. However in the process of doing so it was realised that there are a number of issues surrounding land acquisition and transfer for/to industry. It was important to unravel these issues and hence they have been dealt with in more detail in this study. Additionally the marginalised communities, not being the legal title holders of the land under study, are nowhere in the picture as far as acquisition goes. It further calls for different parameters and set of studies to do justice to what impact it has on these people.
The study was in view of advocacy for and support to the grassroots resistance groups which are trying to protect their rights, community land, their coasts, their livestock, livelihoods and environment. The study has done justice to it and it is our hope that such studies will not only create wider, critical awareness among people and civil society organisation but also synergise their efforts to raise their voice and safeguard their rights to live and develop democratically. It will be worthwhile if the study also helps the State functionaries, political class, judiciary, the industrialists and business houses to be more sensitive and conscientious about the violation of human rights, manipulation and coercion that goes on in the name of development and ‘public purpose’.
jimmy c. dabhi s.j.
Behavioural Science Centre
Land acquisition is a topic that is fraught with debates ranging from the purely practical to those deeply philosophical. On the one hand, acquisition of farmland for purposes of industrialization or urban growth – as land acquisition is generally purported to mean – is considered to be crucial to development. On the other hand, issues pertaining to rights to life and survival are raised in the context regarding those whose land is thus acquired.
The present study seeks to understand the story of ‘development’ in Gujarat from the angle of “land acquisition”. The term “land acquisition” is a misnomer for the process that is unfolding in Gujarat in the sense that it does not capture the entire gamut of processes and procedures that accompany land dealings. While the term ‘acquisition’ is used to refer to the government’s intervention of divesting the owner of the land in question invoking the LAA, 1894 or any other statutory instrument, the processes in Gujarat also include alienation of privately held agricultural land as well as common property resources which are government-held, through government instruments (GRs, Notifications, policies, circulars), the intentions of which are not always in the public domain. At least not at the time that unsuspecting farmers ‘sell’ their land to land sharks. These often work in tandem with private corporate interests which brings in distortions in the land market, which benefit the private corporate players and political actors, to the gross detriment of the land owner or the people that depend on the said land (private or commons).
Elsewhere in India, the protests have been put down with violent force by the government (Singur, Nandigram, Jagatsingpur, Koodankalam, ...). Yet, Gujarat has remained free from such ‘controversies’. That is why the ‘Gujarat model’ of ‘land acquisition’ is being touted as one that merits emulation. For that very reason also it merits a further scrutiny. This is in full recognition of the fact that this study is neither extensive nor exhaustive but only touches upon some of the important issues involved in this debate.
Massive amounts of land, nearly 16% of the total reporting area of the state, have been acquired between 1960 and 2004 (Lobo and Kumar, 2009) for various purposes, chief among them ‘water’ and ‘transport and communication’. These being pre-requisites for commerce and industry, land being used by industry has seen a sudden growth in the years following 2001-2002. Some industry friendly policies and rules and Acts coupled with the fact of essential infrastructure being in place seem to be possible reasons.
The data on land being given to industry is skeletal and has to be collated from various sources. This is because comprehensive statistics on the same from the government are not available. Some data given by the Revenue Minister on the floor of the Assembly, skeletal as it is, is alarming. Nearly 2.21 crore sq.m. of forest land has been given over to industry between 2007 and 2009. Collation of public documents also reveals the fact that nearly 788380568.80 sq. m. (78,838 ha.) of land has been given to industry (maybe gauchar and wasteland). These data are alarming; what is even more alarming is the secrecy surrounding the data on land. RTI queries to the Revenue department as to these aspects have been turned down. We were told that “this data is not available with the Department and hence is not being provided”.
The massive transfers of land to industry is leading to a concentration of huge tracts of land with a few industrial houses (Adanis, Essar, Tatas, L&T, Reliance ...). SEZs are allowed to use 50% of the land for non-processing uses such as educational institutes, hospitals, residential and commercial complexes and such like. This is leading to privatisation of commons on the one hand, and on the other, turning land into real estate, fuelling unreal prices of realty. The same case is repeated with GIDC lands in its estates – extending the deadline for utilisation of plots, allowing the lease holders to buy the plot on hire purchase and turning lease-hold land into freehold land. It is turning a privately held asset into a public one and then privatising the same for industrialists and business-owners, showing a clear bias against small and medium agriculturists.
In fact, the government, far from acting as a trustee of ‘national resource’ (at least in Gujarat) is seen to be behaving as the ‘owner’ of the lands under its jurisdiction and seems to be in an unusual hurry to ‘liquidate’ this national resource on which most poor and asset-less communities – landless people, fisherfolk, agarias, maldharis and pastoralists – depend.
Again, we are told that the land being given to industry is degraded or ‘waste’ land. But how land gets classified as waste land is not in the public domain; at least not common knowledge. However, our cursory inquiry has revealed that post-acquisition by GIDC even agricultural land gets classified as ‘waste land’ (padtar). Even gauchar land, when it is to be transferred to industry, as was the case in Jamnagar with Reliance Infrastructure, the District Collector issues an order to the gram panchayat to remove the said land from gauchar classification and re-classify it as padtar. Hence, how much of the padtar land, transferred to industry, was originally privately held agriculture land or gauchar land is not in the public domain.
The generous gifts of land to industry are accompanied by strenuous efforts to withhold land which is legally due to the Adivasis under FRA or the dalits (land redistribution). The many policy and fiscal incentives to industry are not matched by similar incentives for agriculture (agro-business being different in our understanding from agriculture). The aggressive onslaught of industrialisation is putting a stress on environment endangering traditional livelihoods. It is no surprise then that despite continuous increases in NSDP there is widespread hunger in Gujarat (nearly 42% of children are malnourished)!! The dividends of LPG are not trickling down.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that the growth of Gujarat is being funded by the poor of Gujarat, the Adivasis, the Dalits and the Muslims, the women, or the maldharis, the pastoralists, the saltpan workers (the agariyas), the fisherfolk, the landless wage workers ... Their participation in the process of ‘development’ has been taken for granted, the benefits to them, notional as they are, have been assumed, their voice has been silenced. Their perspective on the ‘development’ of Gujarat is an indictment of the present paradigm; reason enough to ignore, by-pass and silence them through indifference.
The instruments that transfer land to industry are by and large legal (Acts and GRs and notifications) which make it difficult to challenge their validity in courts of law, despite the overt illegality involved in it. The courts have bought the ‘LPG as policy’ argument. Legal challenge is thus difficult, as many instances prove. People’s resistance, as was seen in the case of Mahua or by MASS in Bhadreshwar, Kutch, appears as of now to be the most workable method.
In the immediate future these issues need to be brought centre-stage, with pressure on the government to come out with real-time and credible data on land use. With time, the debate would have to be broadened to question the very nature of ‘growth’ that we are witnessing, to question the paradigm of development that the state would have us pursue, and to collectively seek answers and responses.
1) ‘Acquisition’ in Gujarat goes beyond the government’s intervention to include alienation of privately held agricultural land as well as common property resources which are government-held, through government instruments (GRs, Notifications, policies, circulars), the intentions of which are not always in the public domain. These often work in tandem with private corporate interests bringing distortions in the land market, which benefit the private corporate players and political actors, to the gross detriment of the land owner or the people that depend on the said land (private or commons).
2) The ‘model’ of land acquisition being followed in Gujarat is no different from that being followed elsewhere. On the parameter of contention and conflict over land transfers, the claim of the GoG that it is a win-win situation for all concerned is contrary to the fact of widespread discontent on the ground and farmers feeling pressurised to part with their landholdings.
3) The government has not played the role of an impartial facilitator. Rather, it has come out very emphatically on the side of private industry.
4) Gujarat has shown a tremendous spurt on parameters of economic growth such as PCI, NSDP, and industrial output. However, it sits uncomfortably with the presence of malnourishment, anaemia among women and girls, low sex ratio and CSR, high IMR and MMR and high levels of poverty and hunger. The growth and development that Gujarat is witnessing today is not inclusive; it is creating ‘enclaves’ of prosperity amid a sea of suffering.
5) Huge amount of land acquired in the name of ‘development’ and public purpose. The data on land being given to industry is skeletal.
6) Land acquired by GIDC is now being divested to the plot owners (private land snatched away from farmers and now given to industry owners).
7) Continuing acquisition by GIDC despite huge unutilised plots.
8) The massive transfer of land to industry is leading to a concentration of huge tracts of land with a few industrial houses (Adanis, Essar, Tatas, L&T, Reliance ...).
9) The land being given to industry is officially classified as degraded or ‘waste’ land. But how land gets classified as waste land is not in the public domain; at least not common knowledge. Private agricultural land, post-acquisition, is classified as ‘padtar’ on 7/1 2 documents. Similarly, ‘gauchar’ land earmarked for industry, is sought to be reclassified as ‘padtar’ on village records, and then transferred to industry. Vast stretches of productive land are thus, on official record, turned ‘unproductive’.
10) The generous gifts of land to industry are accompanied by strenuous efforts to withhold land which is legally due to the Adivasis under FRA or the dalits (land redistribution), or development of gauchars.
10) Exceptions are made in the case of certain industrial houses (through GRs) granting special permissions not applicable to others.
11) Allowing sale of leased land to certain industrial houses (through GRs) which is not permissible by law.
12) The aggressive onslaught of industrialisation is putting a stress on environment endangering traditional livelihoods.
13) The instruments that transfer land to industry are by and large legal (Acts and GRs and notifications) which make it difficult to challenge their validity in courts of law, despite the overt illegality involved in it.
14) The terms used for classification of land use continue to adhere to an imperial imperative of revenue collection. ‘Wasteland’ is an imperial coinage which replaced the understanding of ‘common land’ or ‘common property’. That independent India has not felt the need to replace such terms is indicative of an imperial mindset that continues to pervade the echelons of power.
16) In fact, the government, far from acting as a trustee of ‘national resource’ (at least in Gujarat) seems to be in an unusual hurry to ‘liquidate’ this national resource on which most poor and asset-less communities – landless people, fisherfolk, maldharis and pastoralists – depend.
17) The definition of ‘public purpose’ found in LAA, 1894 (for which land is purportedly acquired) is very vague and all-encompassing giving sweeping powers to the government. This allows for nexus to come up – between government and industry, industry and bureaucracy, bureaucracy and executive, between retired revenue officials and industry, elected panchayat members (oftentimes only the sarpanch) and industry, ...
18) The broader question which arises is the nature of ‘development’ and public purpose that is being pursued – how public is the purpose of SRFDCL or Mahatma Mandir or MPSEZ or Nirma or Dholera SIR?