By Matt Styslinger
According to Dr. Vandana Shiva—founder of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE) and Navdanya—the Indian government is taking land from farmers and giving it to private speculators, real estate corporations, mining companies, and recreational industries. In an online editorial published on Al Jazeera, The great land grab: India’s war on farmers, Shiva says that the land grabs are made possible by the combination of the colonial Land Acquisition Act of 1894, the 1991 World Bank structural adjustment program in India, and deregulation under Indian neo-liberal economic policies. “The largest democracy of the world is destroying its democratic fabric through its land wars,” says Shiva. “The land wars must stop if India is to survive ecologically and democratically.”
The Land Acquisition Act of 1894 was used by colonial rulers in India to forcibly remove peasants and tribal people from their ancestral land so that it could be used for commercial purposes. After independence, India instituted land reform laws to protect land for farmers. The World Bank’s structural adjustment program (SAP), however, reversed them in 1991 believing it would stimulate economic growth. While laws that protected farmers’ rights to land were reversed by the SAP, the colonial Land Acquisition Act was untouched. Now, according to Shiva, Indian policymakers favor the agendas of multinational companies over the needs of their country’s farmers. “[The] global economy, driven by speculative finance and limitless consumerism, wants the land for mining and for industry, for towns, highways, and biofuel plantations,” she says.
Shiva complains that under the guise of development for public purpose, farmers are forced to leave their land to make way for infrastructure projects. But along with the construction of highways and factories, portions of acquired land go to profit-making schemes that do not benefit the general public. Shiva gives an example of the Yamuna Expressway project in Bhatta Parsaul, Uttar Pradesh. “About 6,000 acres of land is being acquired by infrastructure company Jaiprakash Associates to build luxury townships and sports facilities—including a Formula 1 racetrack,” she says. “In total, the land of 1,225 villages is to be acquired for the 165 kilometer expressway.”
“While land has been taken from farmers at 300 rupees (US$6) per square meter by the government using the Land Acquistion Act,” says Shiva, “it is sold by developers at 600,000 rupees (US$13,450) per square meter—a 200,000 percent increase in price.” Shiva claims that the practice of land grabbing for private profit is rampant in India today, and that it is often done violently. These grabs, according to Shiva, are not, “by any stretch of the imagination, for any public purpose.”
“Colonization was based on the violent takeover of land,” says Shiva. She equates the current climate in India to re-colonization through globalization, calling it a police state that uses sedition laws to vilify those who have protested land deals. “On April 18, in Jaitapur, Maharashtra, police opened fire on peaceful protesters demonstrating against the Nuclear Power Park proposed for a village adjacent to the small port town,” says Shiva. “One person died and at least eight were seriously injured. The Jaitapur nuclear plant will be the biggest in the world and is being built by French company AREVA. After the Fukushima disaster, the protest has intensified—as has the government’s stubbornness.”
“Today, a similar situation is brewing in Jagatsinghpur, Orissa where 20 battalions have been deployed to assist in the anti-constitutional land acquisition to protect the stake of India’s largest foreign direct investment—the POSCO Steel project. The government has set the target of destroying 40 betel farms a day to facilitate the land grab.”
The Indian constitution recognizes the rights of people, as well as village councils called panchayats, to democratically decide on issues of land in development, Shiva points out. “The government is disregarding these democratic decisions—as is evident from the POSCO project where three panchayats have refused to give up their land,” she says. “The use of violence and destruction of livelihoods that the current trend is reflecting is not only dangerous for the future of Indian democracy, but for the survival of the Indian nation state itself.”
Shiva says that the Indian government has confused its development priorities. Instead of encouraging the expansion of concrete jungles, she says, more needs to be done to ensure that the country’s land can continue to provide water and feed its people far into the future. “Creating multiple privatized super highways and expressways does not qualify as necessary infrastructure,” she says. “The real infrastructure India needs is the ecological infrastructure for food security and water security. Burying our fertile food-producing soils under concrete and factories is burying the country’s future.”
Do you know of any controversial development projects that are forcing farmers off of their land? Tell us about them in the comments!
Matt Styslinger is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.
To read more about land grabs and Vandana Shiva see: Conference Asks What the Future of Food Should Look Like, Opportunity or Adversity? IDS Conference on the Global Land Grab Trend, United Nation’s Body Fails to Back “Land Grab” Code of Conduct, Innovations in Access to Land: Land Grab or Agricultural Investment?, and Large Scale Land Investments Do Not Benefit Local Communities.