The government’s path to development and modernisation needs to be smooth so that there is growth and prosperity, not only for the government and those who invest in the State but for its own people who are equal partners in progress.
That is evidently the path that the Goa government also proposes to take. But one of the barriers to this perfect scenario is the apparent unhappiness and sense of loss felt by those who are not only losing lands but also their livelihoods. This is something that the State can and would like to address.
The people who are losing land, for projects with claims of many stuck in fast-track courts- the irony of the situation obvious- are very likely to exercise their last option if nothing works- to approach the courts to ask for upfront compensation BEFORE the land is acquired. The land acquisition process for the MOPA international airport as well as many other projects including completed ones are full of cases of the land losers not having received compensation or their cases are stuck due to title or other issues.
At the same time, every government would like to build a relationship of trust and develop a bond with its people. It is these binds that matter when people have to choose their next government. One election has just happened, and the 2024 Lok Sabha is not far away & before you know it the next assembly elections will come knocking. This is an opportunity for the government to build that trust since no one likes to go to court and spend years battling this out, putting further avoidable strain on the relationship.
The mindset should be simple. The local institutions of government are completely aware of persons who are tending the land and living off it, irrespective of the original land title. These arrangements are time-tested and have been followed in village communities.
And this remains across generations and decades, even centuries perhaps. Therefore, it is far easier to award compensation to the landowner or the current land user, with the proviso that if there are any challenges they can be scrutinised and even judicially adjudicated later.
This will enable the land losers to get money or alternate land in their lands to restart their lives and ensure that they are not left on the streets or forced to withdraw their children from school because they can no longer afford fees.
The human cost and effect of the land acquisition have to be assessed in a humane and compassionate way. It is also mandated in the principle of the Land Acquisition Act that the land loser cannot be at a disadvantage after losing land. This has to be the bottom line and the foundation of the entire acquisition process, which if not provided, can be hopefully achieved through the courts, based on what the Courts themselves have said earlier
The operative word in the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 is “fair”
It is written in the body of the act that it has “provisions to provide fair compensation to those whose land is taken away, (and) bring transparency to the process of acquisition of land to set up factories or buildings, infrastructural projects and assures rehabilitation of those affected”.
The Kerala High Court in a judgment related to a petition filed by land losers of the Kochi Metro project made a specific and important remark. It stated:
“The State government does not have the power to conduct negotiated purchase which is disadvantageous to the landowner while acquiring his property for public projects.”
A sensitive government will always realise what is disadvantageous to its people
When a farmer or a land or orchard owner loses land, farms, or trees, it is not an ordinary or small loss. No amount of monetary compensation can compensate for a way of life and livelihood. It is like asking a toddy tapper to live in the city and drive a truck.
Next to the Mopa link road, so many families have lost their cashew trees which were bulldozed for the Mopa link road. Those were their source of bread and butter. They helped send their children to school. A sensitive government will realise this and correct any unfair doing. It is expected to do this.
Goa can draw inspiration from other States that can present recent successful case studies of land acquisition, including Uttar Pradesh. In fact, Niranjan Sahoo and Shubh Soni, Researchers with the Observer Research Foundation, a global think tank, perceived in some quarters to be establishment leaning, in a piece “Land Acquisition: Learn from the States” have outlined the pattern of land acquisition in some key States.
A State like Uttar Pradesh realises that a relationship with a land loser, who is giving everything for the State’s progress, has to be long-term. UP has introduced an annuity (a fixed long-term amount) of Rs 23,000 per year per acre for the next 33 years or farmers were given the option to settle for a one-time compensation of Rs 2.76 lakh per acre.
But there’s an added clincher. The landowners who have become land losers can get back 16% of their land which is developed and a cash component for the remaining land. So here they can get a fixed amount as compensation plus 16% of their land given back after getting developed.
In Andhra Pradesh, Chief Minister Jaganmohan Reddy introduced a new model where the State has not acquired but leased the lands from farmers and offered an annuity of Rs 30,000 per acre to farmers setting up green energy production units, with a hike of 5% every three years
Tamil Nadu, that has 3500 foreign firms, which includes forty ‘Fortune 500’ companies, 26,000 factories, and 28 special economic zones (SEZs); has facilitated an easy land acquisition policy where there are no complaints. It has also smartly located most SEZs in distant places and over fallow lands.
In Maharashtra, the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) has set up the process of negotiation and compensation. The compensation scheme has the following components:
Compensation is based on market price, employment is assured to one family member, and there is a buy-back option of up to 15% of the developed land (meaning after the land is developed, 15% of the developed land can be bought back) and there is remuneration/wages to landless labourers.
The ground has therefore been set for Goa to follow suit. With so much precedence and judicial agreement on the principle of how compensation and rehabilitation should be done, it will work better for both the government and land losers if this pattern is adopted for the good of all for the progress of the State. It shouldn’t have to go to court and through the process of litigation, because this only consumes time and resources, which no one would want to lose or spend.