Opinion

Farmers' concerns and larger goals

T. K. Bhaumik | Updated on March 12, 2018

While addressing farmers’ grievances, development objectives cannot be sidelined.

Greater Noida : Farmers protesting against land acquisition policy of Yamuna Expressway Industrial Authority in Realkha village, Greater Noida on Saturday. PTI Photo (PTI4_30_2011_000067B)   -  PTI

It is time land acquisition policy is prepared in the backdrop of an integrated policy for development of agriculture.



The critical turn of developments surrounding acquisition of land now demands an urgent resolution at the national level.

The imperative is to have a clear perspective and a policy framework conducive to development at the national level. While the grievances of the farmers must be addressed properly, the developmental objectives cannot be sidelined either. No sectoral interests can be promoted in a sustainable way, if the broader national interest is not served.

ACQUISITION IS IMPERATIVE

Let there be no doubt that we need agricultural land for various non-agricultural activities, including infrastructure development, setting up of industrial units, urban development. If we look at the current land use pattern, it may be observed that non-agricultural uses account for only 8 per cent of total land area of 331 million hectares.

Agriculture accounts for 59 per cent, forest areas 21 per cent, while barren and unreported lands account for 12 per cent. In this setting, land required for non-agricultural purposes has to obviously come mainly from agricultural land.

A question that may arise is what will happen to our food security if we reduce land under cultivation. It is imperative to increase farm land productivity, so that more crops can be produced from lesser land area. If China can produce more than 500 million tonnes of foodgrains from 107 million hectares, why do we need 141 million hectares of land to produce 240 million tonnes or less?

As use of farm land for industrial purposes becomes inevitable, it is time that land acquisition policy is prepared in the backdrop of an integrated policy for development of agriculture.

COMPENSATION ISSUES

The main issue about land acquisition, so far, has been about compensation to farmers. Acquiring land from the farmers is much more than an act of buying land from them through an agreement. It is not the same thing as evicting the slum-dwellers from their hutments.

When the government or anyone purchases land from the farmers, the latter, no doubt, agrees to sell it at a negotiated price. But even as the transaction takes place at an agreed price, this price may not always make for adequate compensation. This is also true that, to the extent there is no coercion involved, no one can force the farmers to sell lands at a price that is below their expectation.

The fact, however, remains that, for various reasons, farmers do not often match the strength of the buyers, especially when they represent government or large enterprise.

If we assume that the farmers are a weaker party in the land deal, it has to be ensured that they get the right price for their lands.

The ‘right' price is usually the market price, but we must not forget that, when it is land, there is no competitive market, nor is the market price often a reliable yardstick for compensation.

The government has a major role to play here through benevolent intervention, and ensure that the farmers get the right price. It need not buy the land on behalf of the intending buyer, but can certainly intervene in the interest of a mutually beneficially best deal.

When a farmer decides to sell his land, he has actually decided to forego his present source of livelihood, and switch over to a new one, which may be anything. For him, this transition is of critical importance, and has a cost. The price to be paid to farmers must take this into account.

The purchase and sale of agricultural land is not like a transaction in other commodities, where a one-time exchange ends the matter. The sale of land is usually associated with economic, social and cultural transition on the part of the farmers.

Accordingly, when farmers agree, or want, to sell lands, there may often be need for certain support services that would help them undergo a smooth transition. This is especially true when land is purchased for such purposes as large infrastructure, industrial, or township projects. In such cases, the sale of land results in emergence of a new economic landscape, in which the settlers of land can be variously accommodated with the necessary support services.



PARTNERS IN DEVELOPMENT



However, a few points should be noted. First, land acquisition policy has to be framed keeping in mind the purpose behind acquisition of the land. We need a very different set of rules and obligations, when the purpose has a broader social and economic impact on the local economy.

In such cases, there is also need for better communication with the farming and the village community, who, in no case, should be treated as mere sellers of land but as partners in future development.

Second, if the prime motive is larger development, then the interests of all the stakeholders have to be kept in mind. Care has to be taken to ensure that the policy is not lopsided. While the farmers' interests must be protected and they must be adequately compensated, the price of land must not be too prohibitive and make the intended projects uneconomical. This would be counter-productive to future development.

An effective and balanced land policy will decide the outlook for future growth and development. In the absence of it, we may end up having multiple social and economic problems.

Take the case of urbanisation. As much as 32 per cent of India's population lives on 4 per cent of the country's land. Naturally, our urban areas have so much of problems. No one can deny the need for area-wise expansion of urbanisation for its healthy growth.

Similar is the case for industrialisation and growth of manufacturing. Land acquisition policy, thus, cannot be entirely about farmers' interests, but must serve the broader objective of economic development.

Published on August 02, 2011

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