The anti-land acquisition stir in parts of Uttar Pradesh shouldn’t come as a surprise. In the last few years, similar conflicts have erupted across the country over compensation and rehabilitation issues. Like in Tappal in Aligarh district last year, farmers in Greater Noida, the epicentre of the current round of protests, Agra and Aligarh, are alleging this time that Mayawati’s government has been acquiring land, forcibly in some cases, at cheap rates at the behest of private developers. The state government denies this. The truth lies somewhere in between. While it is true that one particular infrastructure giant enjoys a lion’s share of UP’s projects, farmers too are trying to squeeze as much as possible from the government. Some reports indicate that the farmers want the government to compensate them according to UP’s 2010 land acquisition policy, but retrospectively from 2000. The farmers in these areas were not compensated according to the new policy as they had sold their lands before 2010. Issues like these will always have the ability to push governments on the backfoot because the process of land acquisition, which includes holding public hearings and discussing rates with the land sellers, are not always followed in either letter or spirit.
Last year, UP learnt a lesson the hard way thanks to the Tappal agitation and came up with a decent land acquisition policy. According to the policy, no land would be acquired without the consent of the farmer and the price would be finalised through a negotiated settlement between the government and the landowner. In addition, the government would offer the farmer an annuity for 33 years or a one-time payment. How well UP implements this needs to be seen. The ongoing stir also shows the opposition parties in poor light. While at the Centre, political parties have not been able to join hands to push through the much-needed land acquisition and rehabilitation bills in Parliament, at the state level, all parties except the ruling BSP seem to be playing activists on behalf of the farmers. With assembly elections in India’s largest electorate next year, there are no prizes for guessing where the opposition parties are deriving their populist impetus from.
But land acquisition policies, no matter how good or bad, will never be the end of such strife. There’s another issue that gets lost in the din of such allegations and counter-allegations: once a lump sum amount is paid to a farmer, what happens after that? In most cases, it is wasted on conspicuous consumption. With no land and no skill set to get a job in the non-agricultural sector, it’s a dead-end for most. So it’s no surprise that most protests of this nature are spearheaded by the unemployed-unemployable youth. Unless the central and state governments engage with this ‘What next?’ question and equip these ‘land losers’ with some kind of skill set, watch out for more post-land acquisition protests.