Land disputes hitting Indian infrastructure schemes

Land disputes hitting Indian infrastructure schemes

Mumbai: Protests against a proposed Indian nuclear power plant this weekend highlight a growing problem facing developers, experts say, as the country tries to upgrade or build much-needed infrastructure.

Thousands of fishermen, farmers and their families in Jaitapur in western Maharashtra state turned out in force on Saturday to denounce the loss of homes and agricultural land, as well as voice fears about radiation and pollution.

The long-running protest has already seen a government compensation package rejected as “derisory" compared with the estimated $22 billion that the plant will cost.

Environmentalists also oppose building the French-backed facility because of its location in the ecologically-sensitive Western Ghats mountain range and a high-risk earthquake zone, plus India’s lack of an independent nuclear regulator.

“The authorities are trying to spin this as people wanting more money," Lauri Myllyvirta, an energy campaigner at Greenpeace, told the news agency, “But the people just want to have their land and have the security of that lifestyle and income. They’re very concerned about the radiation risk and whether there will be a waste-reprocessing facility on the site."

Years of wrangling over land, compensation and environmental impact have become a regular feature of many projects aimed at developing modern India.

High-profile disputes include plans for a second airport on protected wetlands to service India’s financial hub of Mumbai and a plan by Tata Motors to build a new manufacturing plant for the world’s cheapest car, the Nano.

India’s environment ministry approved the much-delayed airport project last month but Tata Motors aborted its move to West Bengal state in 2008 after weeks of violent protests by farmers angered by the forced purchase of their land.

ArcelorMittal, South Korea’s Posco and Vedanta Resources have all recently been forced to look elsewhere for large-scale steel plant and mining projects after opposition in the eastern state of Orissa.

Special economic zones -- a government initiative aimed at turning India into a manufacturing powerhouse by offering tax breaks and other incentives -- have also been hit by claims of illegal land grabbing and corrupt practices.

The editor of India Infrastructure magazine, Shubhra Puri, said such disputes were now a major problem, as ordinary Indians, with the help of campaigners, become more savvy.

“Whatever settlement was given to them earlier, they used to think this was a boon and it helped them alleviate their economic status, but today they are wiser," she said.

“They talk to other people in other areas to see if they’re getting a lucrative deal... If they get together these projects will not happen. They’re negotiating very, very smartly," said Puri.