Novel land grab

 
Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

with protests against land acquisition spreading across the country, state governments have realized that they cannot do without a dialogue with farmers--it's another matter that on most times there is less dialogue and more browbeating. But why does the state acquire land, ostensibly for public good, and then hand it over for private profits. Why cannot the industry directly negotiate with the villagers? Because that is an expensive proposition. So let the government wield its authority and use archaic laws to make way for a convenient entry.

The Maharashtra government has done exactly that in freeing up over 40 hectares of grazing land of Shendi village near Pune and handing it to Dow Chemical International Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of us-based The Dow Chemical Company. The company intends to set up a Rs 400-crore r&d centre at the site.

Shendi located in Khed taluka of Pune is primarily an agriculture and dairy-oriented village with a population of about 2,500. Realising that acquiring private farmland from farmers requires dialogue, even though coercive, with the villagers and their 'permission', the state government found a novel way out--grab the grazing land.

There is a big loophole in the law which has been used by the state government in favour of Dow and against the villagers. Technically and legally, grazing land anywhere in the country falls under the jurisdiction of government's revenue department, hence it is a defined as 'government' land. And government is free to change the ownership of this land and hand it over to anyone it pleases without asking the local villagers or seeking gram sabha or gram panchayat's permission. Irrespective of the fact that such commons form an inherent part of the village economy. Taking away such commons will surely tell.

And this is exactly what has happened in Shendi. With grazing land gone, the negative impacts on village economy are showing. Villagers have been forced to sell their cattle as stall-feeding cattle by buying fodder from the market is turning out to be very expensive and unsustainable. And with cattle gone, agriculture will soon become a costly affair leading to farmers selling their land and migrating to cities. But state government seems immune to such 'bickering'. More land will be freed up for industrialization.

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