India’s Land Acquisition Act: Bonanza for Rulers & their Financiers

Farmers demonstrate against Modi government's Farm Land Acquisition Bill in New Delhi

India has a long history of its ruler’s fascination with farm land. Whether it was ancient Kings or Moghuls or British invaders turned rulers as well as the current rulers after independence; every one has been robbing the farmers of their land in broad daylight by claiming that they are doing it for the sake of development.

Let us have a close look at the largest democracy of the world. India is a country of 1.35 billion, where 665 million practice open defecation against 37 million doing so in China. India has the world’s largest army of 85 million child labor out of 830 million poor living in extreme poverty. India’s elite, world famous billionaires, part of the 56 million rich Indians, live side by side with almost a billion poor and treat them as sub humans who are viewed as burden for the country.

A former diplomat, politician, author and thinker Pavan Varma wrote in his book “Being Indian” that in the Indian elite “there is a remarkable tolerance for inequality, filth and human suffering”. He adds that “concern for the deprived and the suffering is not a prominent feature of the Indian personality. The rich in India have always lived a life, quite oblivious to the ocean of poverty around them”. Less than 10-15 minutes from every slum in any major city of India there are very expensive heavily guarded residential areas with mini palaces costing from a few million dollars to $1 billion Mukesh Ambani’s Palace. One city: two universes.

India’s Land Acquisition Act was enacted in 1894 by British rulers. It gave unlimited power to the government to acquire any land. The Act allowed governments all over India to acquire land from the public. After independence India adopted the same Land Acquisition Act and no one bothered to make any changes in it because it was an easy way for the politicians and corporations to make money. The only person who lost money and livelihood was the individual and his family whose land was acquired. In 1985, an amendment made it easier for politicians and corporate to take over land at throw away prices. “Whenever it appears to the [appropriate Government] the land in any locality [is needed or] is likely to be needed for any public purpose [or for a company], a notification to that effect shall be published in the Official Gazette [and in two daily newspapers circulating in that locality of which at least one shall be in the regional language], and the Collector shall cause public notice of the substance of such notification to be given at convenient places in the said locality.” Practically for 66 years, from 1947 to 2013, every political party and at the center as well as all the states chose not to do anything and has been using this law as a source to generate black money to fight elections. It was only in 2013, the Congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) brought in “The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013. Although this also has some major flaws but it was the first time that some one thought of protecting the farmers, tribals and landless poor. However, UPA could not implement this law as it lost power and in 2014 a new government under Modi was installed at the center by the corporate world.

Corporations and politicians all these years, in daylight robbery, after taking over farm land at throw away prices, have been getting the “land use” changed overnight and land becomes 1,000 to 10,000 times more its original price. Then the scam of acquiring Panchayat land or Shamlat land that is owned by the entire village marked for animal grazing especially for marginal farmers and landless owners of a few animals has been going on for over a century. This is done by the prospective buyer with bribes to revenue officials, from Patwari, Gram Panchayat members, Nayab Tehsildar, Tehsildar, District Collector, to ministers and judges, in case if a petition against an allotment is made for stay and, of course, the Chief Minister of the State who gets his/her share before any one else and only then a green signal is issued to go ahead with the project. Now after acquiring the farm land, to get its “land use” changed the buyer once again pays bribes to Chief Minister of the State, the District Collector, the Minister concerned, never forgetting the judicial officials in case a petitioner approaches the court for stay. The buyer also pays the usual development charges as per the rules.

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Farm Land has always been the biggest black money source for every ruling party in every state. If a serious investigation is done one can find how the real estate companies came into existence and some of the famous 5 star hotels, resorts, malls, luxury farm houses and residential complexes were built on farm land as well as Shamlat or Panchayat Land. The worst part is the farmers and their family members who used to own this land are now working as help- gardener, watchman, cleaner, cook and drivers on these properties.
The forest land on which millions of people specially tribal and landless villagers depend for their survival by collecting minor wild oil seeds, herbs, fruits and flower, is much easier to acquire. Bribe all the concerned politicians, bureaucrats, Judges and environmentalists and get the land for a paltry sum per year on a per yard lease for 99 years. There is absolutely no need to buy and spend money on stamp papers etc.! And, in the long rum, have it to yourself, almost for free.
Every central and state government in India believed that it owned the country’s resources. That is the reason we had numerous scams under Congress, Janata Party and BJP governments and their allies. But this time BJP that has come to rule the country at the Center as a single party with a massive majority for any party, after 30 years, has gone a step forward. It is openly sending a message that they own the resources. BJP must understand that “Country’s resources belong to the people and the land owned by farmers must remain with the farmers.” Let them decide what is to be done with the resources in the best interest of the country. Let the issue be decided by the majority of India’s citizens, not by the 1% that own the politicians and are trying to take over the country.
Governments in India have always advanced the argument that the land is required for public use. That, it is required to build infrastructure- roads, bridges, power plants etc. That the land is required for the vital defense projects. For each of these projects that go in to private sector, the players get their profits. Even in case of government projects, governments get to recover the cost through various taxes. Where is the need to provide land at subsidized rates to any of them? The Indian industrial houses -Reliance, Adani, Tata, Jindal, Ruia etc have unprecedented political access and power. All these corporations, unlike East India Company, do not have their private army but soon will be making all kinds of warheads, missiles, helicopters, airplanes, ammunition and other sophisticated military gadgets because BJP’s Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has increased the FDI limit to 49% from 26% for defense industry. Just a few days before the budget the institution of Lobbyist ( Middleman) has been legalized in India for deals with the government, including defense deals. Now there won’t be any shortage of Radias openly operating in the corridors of power to influence law makers for favors for their corporate clients. Do these multi-billionaires really need to be given land at a subsidized rate?
Even after Congress party’s catastrophic defeat in 2014 due to rampant corruption and massive scams the country’s crony capitalists are unlikely to suffer as a result. The nexus between business and politics, today under BJP rule, is as tight as it has ever been. BJP spent Rs 32,000 crore to bring Narendra Modi to power with massive corporate donations. BJP is estimated to have spent at least Rs 6,200 crore on print and broadcast advertising alone. Of these donations, around 90% comes from unlisted corporate sources who will be rewarded when the times comes. May be, under Land Acquisition Act it is pay back time for BJP to its financial supporters with cheap land besides the Rs. 62,398.6 crore for 2014-2015, the revenue government is expected to forego because of exemptions and deductions given to corporates.

Modi’s Finance Minister Arun Jailey is bringing down the Corporate Tax from 30 per cent to 25 per cent in the next four years. In USA where the corporate Tax is 35% according to CAG ; US Corporation’s effective rate of tax was 12.1% in 2011 that is 40 years low. If the effective rate in USA is 12.1% in India it has to be under 10% or in some cases 0 because Indian Corporations are more innovative; they get subsidized loans, land, electricity, break on all kinds of taxes including custom, excise, dividend tax and can book their profits in foreign countries by over invoicing or under invoicing and route it back through government approved Mauritius route. Besides with the plethora of credits and deductions in tax code they buy super luxury cars, luxury homes & farm houses, air planes, yachts and expensive holidays abroad in their corporation’s name for their personal, family, executive and for the use of politicians and top bureaucrats. Interestingly, the bigger the corporate the more deductions and exemptions they take.!
PM Modi has been going to every country in the world and telling investors: ‘Come to India; make in India; we will give you cheap land and labor’. PM Modi is certainly not lying. After robbing the farmers of their land, the farmers and their family members will have no choice but to become cheap laborers for his financial supporters- the MNC’s and the local industrial houses.
(The New Jersey based author is a regular contributor to The Indian Panorama. He can be reached at

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