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India proposes new bill for eminent domain

Bill aims to resolve conflicts over acquisition of farmland for industrial projects, but neither industry nor farmer activists are happy with its provisions
India land acquisitionEnlarge
An Indian farmer with vegetables and produce demonstrates during a protest against land acquisition in New Delhi on August 3, 2011. Dozens of farmers assembled at Jantar Mantar during the protest led by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) Kisan Morcha. (SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)

India's rural development minister introduced a bill to reform the country's eminent domain policies Wednesday, offering land owners higher compensation and more power to refuse to sell. But the preliminary draft of the bill failed to satisfy industry or activists for farmers' rights.

The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) expressed concern over the appreciation value set in the Land Acquisition Bill and said that the proposed value would make land cost economically unviable for industries, according to India's Hindu newspaper.

Meanwhile, real estate developers and construction firms said the proposed bill is not only anti-development but also impractical, according to the Times of India. If the bill is passed and implemented, there cannot be any planned development of townships in the country, the paper quoted Anil Sharma as saying. Sharma is CMD of Amrapali Group, who is also vice-president of Confederation of Real Estate Developers' Association of India (Credai).

On the other hand, activists for land rights said the bill could be used to exploit tribals and marginal farmers with state and muscle power, TOI reported.

Among other concerns, they cited the bill's failure to find a solution for the resettlement and rehabilitation of the people displaced when the land acquisition laws are exercised, and the government's continued stance that industrial projects designed to generate profits for private companies should be considered "in the public interest" and thus viable candidates for the use of eminent domain.

Protests against land acquisition have multiplied over the last several years, as India's industrialization picks up pace. The issue is especially sensitive because two-thirds of India's population is employed in agriculture and ill suited to taking on new jobs in the factories and mines slated to replace their farms. Poorly educated and living hand to mouth, they also have little power to fight back when the state, or big industry, moves in -- making land acquisition one of the most popular recruiting tools for Maoist rebels waging an insurgency across the tribal regions of central India.

Perhaps the most prominent company to fall victim to the conflict was Tata Motors, which farmer protests forced to scrap plans for a large factory in Singur, West Bengal. 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/the-rice-bowl/india-proposes-new-bill-eminent-domain