Nagpur plots pro-poor plan to help land grabbers

By Aparna Pallavi
Published: Friday 15 February 2008

Nagpur plots pro-poor plan to help land grabbers

Down to Earth Big, bigger
Almost a third of the entire Nagpur district, that is 3,780 sq km, will be brought under the metropolitan region. Of this 1,520 sq km will be taken up under the first phase of development. About 70 per cent of this is agricultural land. The plan to expand the city comes in the wake of real estate boom
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The Nagpur Improvement Trust, which carries out development work in the city, has come up with what it calls a pro-poor land-acquisition plan. Social activists, however, warn that under the city expansion and development plan a large number of farmers and rural poor will lose their land for a pittance.

The trust proposes to acquire land for free and return 60 per cent of it to the owners after development, though not necessarily the same piece of land. The chairperson of the trust, Shyam Tagde, says this pattern, used by the Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority, has been adopted keeping in view the high cost of land and complications involved in acquisition.

Complications are expected given the scale of the project. Around a third of the entire Nagpur district--3,780 sq km--will be brought within the metro region, of which 1,520 sq km will be taken up by the Nagpur Metropolitan Region Development Authority for the first phase of development.Five tehsils will be absorbed completely, while four will be absorbed partially. Seventy per cent of this land is agricultural, says Sunita Aloni, deputy director, Town Planning, Nagpur Improvement Trust.

In the past four years, land prices have risen three-four times in Nagpur. Close to the city, land prices range from Rs 25 lakh to Rs 2.5 crore per acre, while in rural areas an acre can cost between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 15 lakh. The administration says it wants to avoid coercion that urbanization projects usually involve. "The development process will be entirely voluntary, and unless farmers are willing to have their lands developed, no land will be acquired," says Tagde.

The development--water supply, sewers, storm drainage, roads and amenities like it parks, schools and hospitals--he insists, will be free with the cost being met through sale of 10-15 per cent of the 40 per cent acquired land for commercial and residential purposes. "Farmers are themselves not interested in keeping their land. A large number of them have applied for non-agriculture status for their lands," adds Aloni.

Smokescreen But social activists and political observers insist that the 'pro-poor' argument is a smokescreen for a sinister intent. "It is nothing but a land scam with a difference. The so-called 'voluntariness' the administration is lauding is just cashing in on the sharp drop in the resistance of the farming community due to losses and suicides," says Mohan Kothekar, a land and forest rights activist associated with the National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers, a federation of grassroots groups. "It is also not a coincidence that the plan was finalized a few days before the removal of the Urban Land Ceiling Act in Maharashtra. In the past two years, land sharks and builders have been buying or entering into development agreements on large tracts of agricultural land--120-1600 hectares (ha) at a time--at panic prices within 25 km of the city. It is these people who will reap the benefits of the imminent real estate boom as well as free development," he adds. At places, plots were sold for 50-80 per cent their value.

Baba Dawre, an ex-Congressman who is leading the struggle of those displaced by the mihan cargo hub project in south Nagpur, agrees. He says that the 60-40 formula has been arrived at mainly because a large part of the land is already in the hands of influential people. If the land had still been preponderantly in the hands of farmers, as in the cargo hub project, the formula wouldn't have been half as attractive. Dawre estimates that about 60 per cent of the land involved has already been grabbed by well-connected people.

Open-endedThe plan also fails to specify a clear time frame for the return of developed land to owners.

Down to Earth The 60-40 formula has been arrived at mainly because a large part of the land is already in the hands of influential people. If it were mostly owned by farmers the formula would not have been so attractive
-- Baba Dawre (Ex-Congressman)
Down to Earth It is just a land scam with a difference. The so-called 'voluntariness' the administration is lauding is just cashing in on the sharp drop in the resistance of the farming community due to losses and suicides
-- Mohan Kothekar (Land and forest rights activist)

Tagde says the time-frame will be set for individual layouts at the time of implementation. "This is abso-lutely unfair," says Vijay Lapalikar, a Nagpur-based activist associated with the land and tribal rights movement Bharat Jan Andolan, adding, "Why go to the trouble of framing something so ostensibly pro-poor if you want to leave out such crucial specifics? Surely there is a catch somewhere in this."

Indeed there is more to the 60 per cent land clause than meets the eye. Tagde unwittingly gave it away when he said the clause applied only to projects the trust would undertake on its own. "If an area is earmarked for, say, residential or industrial use, and private parties buy land there, the clause will not apply," he said.

Lapalikar points out that there is no provision of relief to tide over the time lag between acquisition and return of land. "For small and marginal farmers this period of landlessness will be very difficult," he says. "If the trust had been serious about its pro-poor agenda, it would have considered this factor." Questioned about interim relief, Aloni said it would "not be required".

Another provision conspicuous by its absence is compensation for the landless--agricultural labourers, artisans, rural service providers, etc. The only provision in this regard is that a mere 5 per cent of the 40 per cent land acquired by the trust be "compulsorily" used for low-cost dwellings for the poor. "High-income groups do not want low-income groups to stay near them, but this measure will ensure that these groups are not pushed out," says Aloni.

"Translated into plain talk," says former corporator Shankar Tayade, "this simply means that the landless will lose livelihoods and homes, will have to pay for housing if at all it materializes and will be on the streets if it does not. And they will be retained in the locality to serve as cheap domestic labour for the high-income groups."

Little choice
And what about those poised to lose land--the farmers? In Shivangaon village of South Nagpur, where residents have lost land to successive projects, the mood is despondent. "The idea of returning 60 per cent developed land is good, but how do we know it will happen? They promised jobs during the Gajraj base project, but not a single job was given. They talked of compensation in other projects, which turned out to be insignificant. How can we trust this one?" asks Shantabai Mahalle, a farmer whose family has lost 12.5 ha of its 14 ha to various projects over 30 years.

Vasudev Domaji Chaturkar, another farmer, speaks from the bitter experience of having lost over 7 of his 8 ha, in installments. "The first thing they will do is to ask us to vacate the land. Where will we live and what will we eat till our lands are returned? And what if they are not returned at all?" he asks. Domaji feels the clause regarding land acquisition by consent notwithstanding, economic pressures of urbanization will eventually force farmers to sell out. "We are poor and uneducated. Do you think we will be able to live in dignity if fancy houses, schools and shops come up all around us? We can hold out for some time but finally we will have to leave."

Tagde says the Nagpur Metropoli-tan Region Development Committee, consisting of 15 bureaucrats and 30 elected representatives, will approve and implement the plan democratically. It will be constituted through an "electoral process", whose details none of the officials seems to have. Exactly how democratic this process will be, is unclear. But one thing is clear that the rural poor are not part of this democracy.

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