Growing protests against forcible land acquisition by state governments for industrial projects have ensured that farmers cannot be taken for granted in the headlong rush to build factories.
But this has come with costs. Governments are now in a bind: After first trying to trample over the property rights of farmers, they are now too shell-shocked to try and procure land for industry.
Neither extreme is good public policy.
Land use policy cannot be a binary affair: acquire land come what may or stop the process altogether. But that unfortunately is where both policy and debate seem to have been mired. There should be a middle ground where the interests of both farmers and companies can be negotiated and balanced.
We feel that one step ahead will be a clear set of metrics to assess why the land is being bought and how well the rights of farmers are being protected. This information will help distinguish between arrogant land grabs and genuine attempts by companies to build factories.
The World Bank has started work on a new project that should serve as a useful benchmark. Just as the bank has developed metrics to judge the ease of doing business in a particular country, so it is also developing a survey to assess how easy it for firms is to invest across national borders.
What is interesting is that the bank will have an indicator on accessing land “that will help us understand how easily foreign investors can access land they are interested in leasing and what protections are in place for both investors and for the country and its citizens”, according to a blog run by World Bank staffers.
It would be a good idea for the Planning Commission to work on similar lines, trying to build comparable indexes on how easy it is for private investors to buy and lease land in various states and how well the rights of local land owners and communities are being protected by law.
Such information will help ground the current debates on land use which shed more heat than light—and help the design of effective public policy to break the current sorry impasse.
Should the government have well-defined metrics on land use? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org