Land acquisition is a difficult issue in India. Very often in the past, eminent domain power has been abused for patently unjustified projects. At the same time, for a country of more than a billion individuals to exist on subsistence farming is a quixotic idea. It also signals one of the great failures of the Indian Left in recent years: Its inability to generate meaningful ideas and debate on the subject.
As reported in Mint on Tuesday, Dr Binayak Sen—the toast of India’s Left-liberal class— has said the government should not acquire land for private interests. His position is diametrically opposite to what the other group of Leftists— those in the National Advisory Council (NAC) say: that government has a complete say in land acquisition.
Sen, as the story reports, said land acquisition is not a legitimate activity and that if the government wants to acquire land, it should have an open discussion with all the stakeholders. The NAC proposals have a similar thrust—in a different garb. They wish to impose such conditions that will make land acquisition close to impossible.
What makes these proposals strange is the fact that the Indian Left knows the importance of shifting under or unemployed individuals from agriculture to industry, if the country is to generate growth to tackle poverty and feed everyone. This is a truth known from at least the 1950s. The failure of the government to industrialize during the planning era is well known. Now, when the private sector is willing to fill in the vacuum, anti-industry ideas have returned with a vengeance.
There is no doubt that a proper land acquisition and rehabilitation law is required. But at the same time, public purpose can no longer be defined in dirigiste terms. To do so would be to condemn the possibility of economic growth— fuelled by industry—in this country. If there is anyone in India’s political spectrum that ought to know this well, it is the Left. But such is its animus against the private sector that it is willing to sacrifice growth and the future possibilities of millions of Indians.
There are ways to avoid extreme positions and come to a reasonable land acquisition and rehabilitation law. Otherwise, immiseration will return to haunt this country.
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