Sanjoy Chakravorty is professor of geography and urban studies at Temple University, US, and author of a recent book ‘The Price of Land – Acquisition, Conflict, Consequence’ (OUP). He talks to HT about the unique land questions that India faces.
You have said that it is in the last decade that landowners have got the power to say “no” to acquisition. What will it take to make them say “yes”?
The new law will significantly overpay landowners. Near urban areas, it will make acquisition difficult. The average land cost in Mumbai is higher than in New York. If you take the example of Singur, the plan was to acquire land at Rs 9 lakh an acre. After the new land acquisition law is passed, the effective price per acre would be Rs 78 lakh. It will not be affordable for anyone to buy land after the new land law comes into effect.
How have we come to this situation?
For decades, landowners were being arbitrarily dispossessed of their land by the state. Then, suddenly, you have a situation where the earlier information asymmetry has been resolved. Farmers who routinely faced wipeouts from their land now expect windfalls.
This has created an unsustainable game situation – the smart ones won’t sell until they get a particular price, which they think will not go up further. But prices may never reach that level. As a result, the market will get completely distorted.
Is the Indian situation a unique one?
Yes. US and Brazil have abundant land; Russia has abundant land and an authoritarian government; in China there is no democracy; in Europe the population is declining. In India, we have democracy, growing population and economy and extremely fragmented land ownership. So, we are facing a unique situation.
Are you suggesting that we give up hope of development?
The Land Bill has the best of intentions and the worst of understanding. The only way to make land available for industrial development and urbanisation is leasing it. I think that could be the way forward.