With the Uttar Pradesh elections due next year, political parties are aggressively hunting for issues that can be potent vote-catchers. If we leave aside the appeal of caste and religious alliances, the land acquisition issue is attracting the Opposition like a moth to a flame. While the Congress's Rahul Gandhi showed his support for villagers opposing arbitrary acquisitions, the Samajwadi Party's scion Akhilesh Yadav recently lashed out at the state government. Last week, UP chief minister Mayawati's government also suffered a body blow with the Allahabad High Court ordering an inquiry into the entire land acquisition process. Hearing the writ petition of 491 farmers from 40 villages in Greater Noida, who had challenged the acquisition of over 3,000 hectares, the court also announced enhanced compensation and nullified the acquisition in three villages. Despite such an order, the war is far from over: another 500 quash-acquisition petitions filed by 5,000 odd farmers have reached the court. With opposition parties falling over each other to take up the cause of the farmers, be ready to see more such firefights. This is not peculiar to UP, we have seen it earlier in poll-bound West Bengal too.
While the good news is that people who have already invested in homes in these areas will not have to pay more, the question now is whether this area will still remain a hub of affordable housing. Instead, some of the projects will have to aim for high-end properties to mop up the additional revenue that will be disbursed as compensation now. Whether it's Noida or elsewhere in the country, land acquisition has become a dirty term, mostly because governments have started behaving like property dealers - buying land cheap and selling it at a profit. In Uttar Pradesh, the government even forgot that the Greater Noida Authority was formed with the main objective of developing it as an "industrial urban township". Instead, it gave away fertile land for residential townships. While it is not being mentioned explicitly, an industrial urban township will always hold a promise of jobs. But when that dream looks unachievable, the mood automatically turns sour.
In the last two decades, the share of agriculture in the gross domestic product has gone down, but in terms of employment almost 50% of the workers still earn their livelihood from agriculture. Naturally, if the central government wants to make this process a win-win situation for all parties, there has to be an alternative route to ensure livelihood. For that there is a need to invest in skill development and literacy for people who are on the verge on losing their land. The situation is dire because of the central government's inability to legislate the amended land acquisition Bill that along with its rehabilitation component can provide a basic structure for acquisition of land and rehabilitation of land-losers. For everyone, the clock is ticking furiously.