Kolkata: A survey of villagers in 22 states has found that a majority of respondents below the poverty line are opposed to giving up land for industries while those above the line are more likely to do so.
The Indian Statistical Institute, or ISI, conducted the survey—commissioned by the Union government—by interviewing 2,626 respondents. The survey defined the poverty line as earnings less than Rs356 a month.
In West Bengal, which has in recent times seen strong protests over land seizure by the state government, only 28.3% of the rural poor wished to give up agriculture. This pattern was reflected in most other states—except the North-East, Kerala, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, where a majority supports industrialization.
Agriculture vs Industry (Graphic)
The survey also found respondents above the poverty line showed greater support for industrialization at the cost of farming. In Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Goa, where almost every person below the poverty line opposed land acquisition, support among the better off was in the range between 23.3% and 49.5%.
In only seven states—Assam, Manipur, Tripura, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala—a majority of the better off supported land acquisition.
Among north-eastern states, almost all respondents supported land acquisition in Tripura, whereas in Assam and Manipur, some 90% of respondents said they wanted to move out of agriculture.
“We found in the North-East that people are willing to part with land because they want industrialization. Because of harsh climatic conditions, agriculture is difficult and paucity of industries means lack of alternative occupations,” said Buddhadeb Ghosh, an economist at ISI and principal investigator of the survey.
Besides the north-eastern states, Communist-ruled Kerala showed strong support for industrialization both among the poor and the better off. As many as 80% of the poor and 70% of people above the poverty line said they were willing to move out of agriculture.
The support for land acquisition was the least among the rural poor in Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Haryana, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh, where almost all respondents said they were opposed to land seizure for industrial projects. People in these states said they were not sure they had the skills to do anything other than farming, Ghosh said.
In Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand, support for land acquisition was significantly stronger among the poor than the better off.
Kalyan Sanyal, professor of economics at Calcutta University, said a lot of people resist land acquisition because they don’t like the way it is normally done by state governments. “A vote against land acquisition does not necessarily mean people are doing well in agriculture,” he said, “For many, agriculture is no longer viable, and this section wants non-agricultural jobs.”
In West Bengal, however, 84% of the poor who opposed land acquisition said they didn’t want to give up agriculture, Ghosh said. Abhirup Sarkar, another economist at ISI, agreed with the findings of the survey. Having conducted several surveys himself, Sarkar said a small section of villagers in Bengal was ready to give up farming. “This small section of the rural society in Bengal is quite well off and desire greater material benefits,” Sarkar had told Mint in May after the ruling Left Front suffered an electoral setback in local bodies such as village and district councils. “But that is not the case with a majority of the people in rural Bengal, who still want to continue farming.”
The sample size, the surveyors admitted, was small. “We are calling this a perception study, and though the sample isn’t big, it has established a trend,” Ghosh said.