Jaipur: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government in Rajasthan has come under sharp attack from political opponents, who allege that acquisition of agricultural land for large-scale industrial development over the past five years was marred by widespread corruption, and farmers, who say they have been poorly compensated for their land. The ruling party, however, says the issue is a damp squib and will not sway voters in the 4 December state elections.
Nearly 5,600 acres of land was acquired by the state-run Rajasthan State Industrial Development and Investment Corp. Ltd, or Riico—the only authority in the state empowered to do so—during the past five years of the BJP rule, a government official said on condition of anonymity. “The figure is more than double of what was acquired during the Congress party’s rule from 1998 to 2003,” he added.
The Congress, which is now making a strong bid to regain power in the state, alleged widespread corruption in land acquisitions, most of which were done in Alwar and Jaipur districts.
Corruption charges: Nearly 5,600 acres of land was acquired by the state-run Riico during the past five years. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
The government levies a “development charge” to convert agricultural land. But there is no development charge in areas beyond the administration of Jaipur Development Authority (JDA), said C.P. Joshi, president of the Congress party’s state unit. “There were 231 villages which were outside the JDA boundary. There, development charges were taken and they (government) siphoned off the money. The money was taken from builders but not deposited with the state exchequer,” Joshi alleged.
The Communist Party of India Marxist (CPM), which had one legislator in the outgoing assembly, echoes the charge. “There has been massive corruption by the BJP in land acquisition. And it is not as if there is no resentment against it, but there have been no agitations since the pockets where it has happened are not under the influence of the CPM,” said Amra Ram, the party’s legislator in the state.
The Congress party is trying to woo the farmers by promising them a “much better compensation” if it came to power following Thursday’s vote.
The state government, however, denies any wrongdoing. “The compensation has been on a par with market rates and there have been no forcible evacuations,” said an official close to the matter who wanted to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the matter and its timing. “There is a well-established system with enough checks and balances to carry out this procedure and the political party in power does not really influence these matters,” he added.
“Unlike in West Bengal, farmers in Gujarat (another state ruled by the BJP) and Rajasthan are seeing the benefits of industrial growth in terms of jobs for locals and so on, and hence, (they) are quite happy with the acquisitions,” he said.
“It is true that a lot of acquisition has happened in the past five years but sufficient compensation has been offered. However, if you ask farmers, they will always say they are unhappy. It is not because of poor compensation rates but because there is a dissatisfaction associated with displacement because of the sentimental value land holds,” said another state government official who also did not want to be identified.
The fact, however, is that no such decision is free of political pressures since it is ultimately the department of industry (headed by the state industries minister) that approves of any acquisition bid.
The Rajasthan government started a new form of compensation over a year back, wherein the farmer could choose monetary compensation or ask for land somewhere else in lieu of his acquired land. He could take some monetary compensation and get 25% of land (20% residential land and 5% commercial land) over and above that. Several farmers, however, seem unhappy about the whole state of affairs.
“Our land was acquired for industrial purposes by the government around four years ago but we were compensated very poorly. I got the money in two or three phases and got Rs50,000 for 1 bigha (1.6 bigha makes 1 acre) while some developers bought land close by and paid more to those farmers,” said Prabhat Badhai of Palsana village in Sikar district. When asked if he would be voting on Thursday, he said: “What is the point? Nobody listens to the poor.”
The story is no different in other districts.
“We got very little compensation, around Rs280,000 for 1 bigha. The market rates are much higher. There is no point in voting for any political party,” said Ram Kishore Sharma of Sitapura village in Jaipur district.
But political analysts say the issue, though it is significant, is unlikely to have a major impact on the elections.
“Land acquisition is definitely an important issue though I am not sure how much it will translate into politics and whether corruption is very important in mass politics at all,” said Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of the Centre for Policy Research, a Delhi-based think tank.
“This is a policy being followed across all states and not just Rajasthan, even though it might be wrong,” said V.S. Vyas, economist and professor emeritus at the Institute for Development Studies and Analysis in Jaipur. “Governments sometimes want to acquire agricultural land for special economic zones (SEZs), or else to merely create a land bank that can later be sold to industrialists... It is unlikely to be one of the major election issues.”