New Delhi: The government, which is seeking to spend more on infrastructure projects in an effort to counter the slowdown, has discovered that at least 70% of 190 delayed infrastructure projects have been stalled on account of problems over land acquisitions, especially the compensation to be paid to landowners.
The escalating cost of compensation is forcing up the cost of projects, thereby affecting their viability. The finding was the result of an exercise initiated by the Union government in consultation with the state governments to identify projects that need to be revived, and to expedite their completion.
The projects, costing at least Rs20,000 crore, include extension of the Kolkata Metro, a new railway line between the tourist destinations of Ajmer and Pushkar in Rajasthan, and a key railway bridge in Munger in Bihar that was to connect the southern and northern parts of the state.
Stalled: A file photo of workers at Kolkata Metro extension site. The project has been affected because the state government had not transferred the entire land and encroachers had occupied a part of it. Indranil Bhoumik / Mint
The study shows that 60 projects being implemented by the Indian Railways, 40 by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and 28 power projects across the country are facing difficulties in acquiring land.
Delays vary and some key projects have been delayed for at least a decade.
In most cases, the conflicts over transfer of land have arisen following differences between the Union and state governments on the amount of compensation that has to be paid to landowners. In several other projects, protests by local residents displaced by the project have either delayed a project or led to its termination, while 20 projects have failed to receive environmental clearances from the state government.
To be sure, the protests are justified in some cases. Supreme court lawyer Colin Gonsalves said that the Land Acquisition Act in India is flawed because it allows the government to take over land without negotiation and that it is natural for people to protest because they do not have much of a say in the process. .
The study quotes officials of Indian Railways as claiming that the Rajasthan government was charging a commercial rate for land for the Ajmer-Pushkar line which was a “non-remunerative” project and undertaken only to cater to the tourist traffic. The Rajasthan government could not be immediately reached for comment.
According to the study, in Bihar, people have claimed land allocated for a railway project in Banka as their own leading to stoppage of work; similarly, an extension of the Kurla-Thane line in Maharashtra has been held up on account of protests.
Similarly, according to the study, in Madhya Pradesh, four new lines constructed by the railways are awaiting environmental clearances from the state government. The Kolkata Metro extension project, in West Bengal, too has been affected because the state government had not transferred the entire land required for the project and encroachers had occupied some part of it.
“We will need some help for acquiring land from the state governments to ensure that these projects are fast-tracked. As of now, land acquisition has become too time taking,” said a railways official who did not want to be identified.
Bihar tops the list of states that have issues pertaining to highway projects and is yet to pay compensation for land that was to have been acquired for eight projects. In Uttar Pradesh, NHAI is unable to acquire land for highway projects as the state government has imposed a condition that the apex roads authority will have to guarantee development of a 10m-wide strip of plantation along either side of the highways if the project involves felling of existing trees. The Centre has been unsuccessfully trying to get the state government to drop this clause for the last four years.
“Some states such as Uttar Pradesh have started their own highways projects which have pushed up land prices. There has been difference of opinion with some other states over the manner in which compensation has been worked out. But nonetheless, we have improved the rate at which land is being acquired,” said an NHAI officer who did not want to be identified.