What is the impact on land reforms?
Should the government take over agricultural land for industry promotion?

In Karnataka now there is a raging controversy over the State government’s allotment of about nearly 1,000 acres of prime agricultural lands on the outskirts of Bangalore for the IT major, Infosys. Mr.Deve Gowda, the former Prime Minister, had raised this issue on the ground the allotment to one company, against others not asking or getting allotted agriculture lands under the Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board is seen by the former PM as a clear political favour. Did the farmers get the market price for the lands alienated? It is not clear. If the farmers didn’t get the prevailing market price for their lands, then, it is clearly a gross act of injustice. In West Bengal too, there is a raging controversy over the allotment of larges chunks of prime agricultural land, as large as 5,000 acres for an industrial township by the CPI (M) government headed by the most qualified Marxist Chief Minister in the country!

What these two current developments in the Indian agricultural policy scenario highlight, they highlight an unprecedented ideological changes in our socio-economic thinking are not yet fully openly debated. There is a conspiracy of silence on the part of serious politicians. Let us leave out the gullible politicians. The latter will say and do anything to keep themselves in power and thereby leaving their States to remain in poverty and backwardness. There is any number of these politicians today in almost all the States. They are in a large number in Kerala. Where land reforms had been the fundamentalist belief of the CPI (M)/CIP fraternity. So, Kerala, as pointed by many experts remains in a paradoxical stage of development. Kerala model was commended for long by progressive economists like Prof.Amartya Sen. Now, Sen is nowhere in this debate and he is intriguingly silent where West Bengal is fighting its ideological battle to move forward in the development league.

Kerala, once noted for its high Human Development Indicators. Not today. It is now lagging behind neighbouring Tamil Nadu even in education, health and of course economic indicators. West Bengal had never been a State in the HDI reckoning. So, what all this means for the question of agriculture lands diverted to large industries or IT industries that require large areas for building their IT parks and also residential accommodations. As it has been pointed out by many the new Indian economy boom as driven by the IT and telecommunication revolutions had come about without our governments knowing anything about them!

Yes, the World Bank team that sits around the Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh and prides itself about taking Indian economic development forward don’t know a thing about the impact of the new economy industries or their impacts. Anyway, they don’t even mention the new economy industries as top priorities. They don’t interact with the IT industry captains. They are more comfortable with the Mumbai type old economy barons. This shows our official mindset. Anyway, the losers are not many and the gainers are too many. The new generation of engineering and other graduates who are now into the IT and BPO sectors know well their lives had been transformed not by government policies but by the silent revolution wrought by the IT boom. We are back to the old question! Should the State governments take over prime agriculture lands, more so on the outskirts of cities that are perceived to have potential for IT investments? The answer must be simple. A loud “Yes” is the only response.

In Karnataka itself there was recently the discussion in the Forum for Land Rights. It was found about nine laky acres of land were in unauthorised cultivation. There were also about ten lakh applications for regularisation of the unauthorised cultivation of agriculture lands. What does this mean?

There is a regular encroachment of lands, government and other lands, is going on. In TN too there is now a discovery of the large scale government lands, in tanks and other such public spaces that have been illegally given “pattas” by revenue officials. Large scale corruption is the only inducement.

In Kerala this illegal encroachment of precious forest lands is an everyday happening. So, what is the lesson? Please liberalise the land reforms laws. Let us create a market-driven demand and supply of agricultural lands for various purposes. So that the present lockup of enormous market value for the agricultural wealth will be opened up. Even poor land owners will get very good market prices. The subsidy burden of the governments for compensation for lands for industrial purposes will be reduced.

If West Bengal can change, why not Kerala, TN or Karnataka. It is time we take a radical relook on the agricultural land reforms laws.


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