Land conflicts affect over 3.2 million people in India

Investment worth US$179 billion in over 5,000 projects is also threatened due to these conflicts

By Aakriti Shrivastava
Published: Wednesday 16 November 2016
Locals protest acquisition of land for mining in Niyamgiri hills of Odisha (Credit: Sayantan Bera/CSE)

The impact of land-related conflicts on India’s people and economy has been underestimated, two new reports say. Analysis of 289 ongoing land conflicts—25-40 per cent of all conflicts in the country, according to the report—across India shows that over 3.2 million people and over Rs 12 trillion (US$179billion) of investment are at risk.

How land conflicts affect people

Infrastructure projects account for almost half of all of the land-related conflicts documented by the study. Airports, townships, roads, railways, multipurpose dams, canals and SEZs, industrial corridors, and investment zones fall under the infrastructure sector. Around 48 per cent of all conflicts were due to infrastructure sector, accounting for 56 per cent of all the people affected.

Mining sector is second largest cause of land conflicts, responsible for 19 per cent of them. Power sector stands third, causing 15 per cent of all the conflicts studied.

The report states that 60 per cent of the conflict-ridden land studied, was acquired by the government.

Almost three-quarters of the land-related conflicts involved common lands while 26 per cent was only on private land. The report also claims that more than 40 per cent of all land-related conflicts involve forest lands, mostly concentrated in regions where customary rights of tribal communities are not recognised.

The analysis found that the intensity of conflicts is higher in Schedule V Areas—tribal districts in Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Rajasthan—which constitute 12 per cent of total districts in India, but are the site of 18 per cent of all land conflicts. Schedule V Areas also account for 30 per cent of the total people affected by land conflicts in the country.

“The status-quo is not sustainable–neither for the affected communities, nor for potential investors,” says Ashwini Chhatre, senior research fellow, Bharti Institute of Public Policy.

“A part of the solution would be recognising the rights of people over common land that is under conflict,” says Kundan Kumar, Asia program director at Rights and Resources Initiative. Adequate compensations for private lands will also reduce chances of conflict, he adds.

“The government must provide India’s tribal and rural communities with the protections they are entitled to under our Constitution by vigorously enforcing the provisions of existing laws like the right to free, prior, and informed consent,” he says.

Economic implications

The second study, "Land Disputes and Stalled Investments in India", used data from the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy’s (CMIE) CapEx database to better understand the causes and spatial distribution of stalled investment projects in India. Its analysis found that 5,780 or 14 per cent of the over 40,000 projects announced between January 2000 and October 2016 were stalled due to land acquisition conflicts.

The research also found the CapEx database, intended as a planning tool for business and governments, to be grossly underestimating the risk associated with land-related disputes. Looking at a subsample of 80 high-value stalled projects, the researchers found more than a quarter of the projects and investment are at risk due to land-related disputes, which is 300 per cent higher than CapEx estimate. The value of the projects at risk due to land related disputes examined in the subsample exceeds Rs. 1.9 trillion (US $29 billion).

The two reports were released on November 16 in a workshop jointly organised by Rights and Resources Initiative, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, Bharti Institute of Public Policy, Indian School of Business and Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

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