Land owners facing acquisition threats from major infrastructure projects would be a relieved lot with the LokSabha clearing the Land Acquisition Bill that promises property owners a higher compensation — four times of what the market offers. The bill will now go before the RajyaSabha.
Acquisition of land for major infrastructure projects like GAIL pipeline, highway expansion and coal bed methane exploration has been a major hurdle in TN. A satellite township at Thirumazhisai is stuck owing to opposition from farmers.
During the previous DMK regime, Tata’s proposed 2,500 crore titanium dioxide project was shelved owing to stiff opposition to the plan to acquire 10,000 acres in Tirunelveli and Tuticorin. The government also dropped its plan for a satellite township at Thaiyur, off Old Mahabalipuram Road, under pressure from PMK. The new bill is expected to make land acquisition smoother, speeding up infrastructure projects.
Farmers are often justified in opposing acquisition of their land, because compensation used to be meager, and seldom paid on time. “Several people, who lost about 1,200 acres to the Neyveli Lignite Corporation in 2006, have not yet received compensation , and many of them are working as construction workers and house maids,” said former Cuddalore panchayat chairperson R Silambuselvi.
At times, governments announce mega projects without studying environmental impact , said Tamil Nadu Cauvery Delta Farmers’ Association general secretary S Ranganathan . He said, “The coal bed methane project in Thanjavur and Tiruvarur will ruin agricultural land that caters to 45% of the state’s food requirement.” R Ganesan of Chettipalayam near Coimbatore, opposing GAIL’s pipeline project, said, “The alignment cuts through my coconut farm. I will lose one acre. The compensation, which is one-tenth of the guideline value , is a pittance.”
S Velumani, who made headlines by staging a sit-in protest in his well recently, opposing acquisition of his 3.5-acre coconut farm for the Coimbatore-Mettupalayam road expansion , said, “I have only three wells. All the three wells would go for the road project.”
Most often, the victims are small farmers. Successive agricultural censuses have shown a growing imbalance in the distribution of land in TN. Around 59 lakh marginal farmers (those who hold less than one hectare or 2.47 acres) own 22 lakh hectares, 12 lakh small farmers (one hectare to two hectares ) own 17 lakh hectares, six lakh semi-medium farmers (two hectares to 4 hectares) own 16 lakh hectares, 1.9 lakh medium farmers (4 to 10 hectares) own 11 lakh hectares and 26,000 large farmers (more than 10 hectares) own six lakh hectares. Interestingly, the number of marginal farmers, 39.5 lakh in 1977, has shot up to 59 lakh. On the other hand, the number of medium and large farmers has declined – from 3 lakh to 1.9 lakh and 46,000 to 26,000 respectively.
Few projects have had a smooth sailing at the land acquisition stage. A case in point is GVK’s multi-product SEZ at Perambalur, for which the firm acquired 3,184 acres in 2007 and 2008 by paying more than the market price. Analysts feel that economic viability alone should not be the criterion. “Social viability is more important. The money given to farmers does not go outside the country. Hence, there is nothing wrong in paying them more than the market price,” noted Madras Institute of Development Studies director R Maria Saleth.