Land acquisition in India refers to the process by which the union or a state government in India acquires private land for the purpose of industrialisation, development of infrastructural facilities or urbanisation of the private land, and provides compensation to the affected land owners and their rehabilitation and resettlement.
Land acquisition in India is governed by the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 and which came into force from 1 January 2014. Till 2013, land acquisition in India was governed by Land Acquisition Act of 1894. On 31 December 2014, the President of India promulgated an ordinance with an official mandate to “meet the twin objectives of farmer welfare; along with expeditiously meeting the strategic and developmental needs of the country”. An amendment bill was then introduced in Parliament to endorse the Ordinance. Lok Sabha passed the bill but the same is still lying for passage by the Rajya Sabha. On 30 May 2015, President of India promulgated the amendment ordinance for third time. Union Government of India has also made and notified the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Social Impact Assessment and Consent) Rules, 2014 under the Act to regulate the procedure. The land acquisition in Jammu and Kashmir is governed by the Jammu and Kashmir Land Acquisition Act, 1934.
As per the Act, the union or state governments can acquire lands for its own use, hold and control, including for public sector undertakings and for “public purpose”, and shall include the following purposes:
- for strategic purposes relating to naval, military, air force, and armed forces of the Union, including central paramilitary forces or any work vital to national security or defence of India or State police, safety of the people;
- for infrastructure projects as defined under the Act;
- project for project affected families;
- project for housing for such income groups, as may be specified from time to time by the appropriate Government;
- project for planned development or the improvement of village sites or any site in the urban areas or provision of land for residential purposes for the weaker sections in rural and urban areas;
- project for residential purposes to the poor or landless or to persons residing in areas affected by natural calamities, or to persons displaced or affected by reason of the implementation of any scheme undertaken by the Government, any local authority or a corporation owned or controlled by the State.
The land can be acquired for private bodies for certain purposes:
- for public private partnership projects, where the ownership of the land continues to vest with the Government, for public purpose as defined in the Act;
- for private companies for public purpose.
Some of the important issues surrounding the Land Acquisition are discussed below. The major land acquisition and conflicts happen in the densely populated areas of the countryside.
The power to take property from the individual is rooted in the idea of eminent domain. The doctrine of eminent domain states, the sovereign can do anything, if the act of sovereign involves public interest. The doctrine empowers the sovereign to acquire private land for a public use, provided the public nature of the usage can be demonstrated beyond doubt. The doctrine is based on the following two Latin maxims, (1) Salus populi suprema lex (Welfare of the People Is the Paramount Law) and (2) Necessitas publica major est quam (Public Necessity Is Greater Than Private Necessity). In the history of modern India, this doctrine was challenged twice (broadly speaking) once when land reform was initiated and another time when Banks were nationalized.
The Constitution of India originally provided the right to property (which includes land) under Articles 19 and 31. Article 19 guaranteed that all citizens have the right to acquire, hold and dispose of property. Article 31 stated that “no person shall be deprived of his property save by authority of law.” It also indicated that compensation would be paid to a person whose property has been taken for public purposes (often subject to wide range of meaning). The Forty-Fourth Amendment of 1978 deleted the right to property from the list of fundamental rights with an introduction of a new provision, Article 300-A, which provided that “no person shall be deprived of his property save by authority of law” (Constitution 44th Amendment, w.e.f. 10.6.1979). The amendment ensured that the right to property‟ is no more a fundamental right but rather a constitutional/legal right/as a statutory right and in the event of breach, the remedy available to an aggrieved person is through the High Court under Article 226 of the Indian Constitution and not the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution.
State must pay compensation at the market value for such land, building or structure acquired (Inserted by Constitution, Seventeenth Amendment) Act, 1964, the same can be found in the earlier rulings when property right was a fundamental right (such as 1954 AIR 170, 1954 SCR 558, which propounded that the word “Compensation” deployed in Article 31(2) implied full compensation, that is the market value of the property at the time of the acquisition. The Legislature must “ensure that what is determined as payable must be compensation, that is, a just equivalent of what the owner has been deprived of”). Elsewhere, Justice, Reddy, O Chinnappa ruled (State Of Maharashtra v. Chandrabhan Tale on 7 July 1983) that the fundamental right to property has been abolished because of its incompatibility with the goals of “justice” social, economic and political and “equality of status and of opportunity” and with the establishment of “a socialist democratic republic, as contemplated by the Constitution. There is no reason why a new concept of property should be introduced in the place of the old so as to bring in its wake the vestiges of the doctrine of Laissez Faire and create, in the name of efficiency, a new oligarchy. Efficiency has many facets and one is yet to discover an infallible test of efficiency to suit the widely differing needs of a developing society such as ours” (1983 AIR 803, 1983 SCR (3) 327). The concept of efficiency has been introduced by Justice Reddy, O Chinnappa, very interestingly coupled with the condition of infallibility (Dey Biswas 2014, 14-15 footnote).
In India, with this introduction of ‘social’ elements to the property rights, a new phase had begun. K. K. Mathew, justice of KesavanandaBharati vs State of Kerala (cited in ) stated this precisely: “Property in consumable goods or means of production worked by their owners (use aspects of property) were justified as necessary condition of a free and purposeful life; but when property gave power not only over things but through things over persons (power aspect of property) also, it was not justified as it was an instrument of servitude rather than freedom” (See  for more on ‘Social’ Element of Property Rights as a Guiding Problem).
The 2013 Act focuses on providing not only compensation to the land owners, but also extend rehabilitation and resettlement benefits to livelihood looser from the land, which shall be in addition to the minimum compensation. The minimum compensation to be paid to the land owners is based on a multiple of market value and other factors laid down in the Act. The Act forbids or regulates land acquisition when such acquisition would include multi-crop irrigated area. The Act changed the norms for acquisition of land for use by private companies or in case of public-private partnerships, including compulsory approval of 80% of the landowners. The Act also introduced changes in the land acquisition process, including a compulsory social-impact study, which need to be conducted before an acquisition is made.
The new law, also has some serious shortcomings as regards its provisions for socioeconomic impact assessment and it has also bypassed the constitutional local self governments by not recognizing them as “appropriate governments” in matters of land acquisition.
Major Indian infrastructure projects such as the Yamuna Expressway have paid about INR 2800 crores (US$500 million) for land, or over US$25,000 per acre between 2007 and 2009. For context purposes, this may be compared with land prices elsewhere in the world:
- According to The Financial Times, in 2008, the farmland prices in France were Euro 6,000 per hectare ($2,430 per acre; IN Rs. 1,09,350 per acre).
- According to the United States Department of Agriculture, as of January 2010, the average farmland value in the United States was $2,140 per acre (IN Rs. 96,300 per acre). The farmland prices in the United States varied between different parts of the country, ranging between $480 per acre to $4,690 per acre.
A 2010 report by the Government of India, on labor whose livelihood depends on agricultural land, claims that, per 2009 data collected across all states in India, the all-India annual average daily wage rates in agricultural occupations ranged between IN Rs. 53 to 117 per day for men working in farms (US$354 to 780 per year), and between IN Rs. 41 to 72 per day for women working in farms (US$274 to 480 per year). This wage rate in rural India study included the following agricultural operations common in India: ploughing, sowing, weeding, transplanting, harvesting, winnowing, threshing, picking, herdsmen, tractor driver, unskilled help, masonry, etc.
The compensation for the acquired land is based on the value of the agricultural land, however price increases have been ignored. The land value would increase many times, which the current buyer would not benefit from. Secondly, if the prices are left for the market to determine, the small peasants could never influence the big corporate tycoons. Also it is mostly judiciary who has awarded higher compensation then bureaucracy (Singh 2007).
Delayed projects due to mass unrest have caused a damaging effect to the growth and development of companies and the economy as a whole. Earlier states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh had been an attractive place for investors, but the present day revolts have shown that land acquisition in some states pose problems.
The consequences of land acquisition in India are manifold.The empirical and theoretical studies on displacement through the acquisition of land by the government for development projects have so far focussed on the direct and immediate adverse consequences of land acquisition. Most of the analytical as well as the descriptive accounts of the immediate consequences of land acquisition for development projects draws heavily from Michael Cernea’s ‘impoverishment risk model’, which broadly enumerated eight ‘risks’ or ‘dimensions’ of development-induced displacement. These eight risks are very much direct and basic in nature which are (i) landlessness, (ii) joblessness, (iii) marginalization, (iv) loss of access to common property resources, (v) increased morbidity and mortality, (vi) food insecurity, (vii) homelessness and (viii) social disarticulation (). Recently L.K. Mahapatra has added ‘loss of education’ as another impoverishment risk in situations of displacement (Mahapatra 1999).
But apart from these direct and immediate effects of land acquisition there are more subtle and indirect effects of this coercive and centralized legal procedure, which have a bearing on various decentralised and participatory democratic processes, and institutions of the state power. Land reforms and the Panchayati raj institutions are the two most important areas, which are being vitiated by land acquisition. Of all the states of India, the consequences and controversies around land acquisition in West Bengal has recently gained a lot of national and international attention. The peasant resistances against governmental land expropriation in Singur(a place in the Hoogly district) and Nandigram(a place in the East Medinipur district) has finally led to the fall of the communist party(Marxist) led government in West Bengal, which ruled the state through democratic election for 34 years.The communist led left front government of West Bengal under the economic liberalisation policy adopted by the Central/Union government of the country shifted from its pro-farmer policy and took to the capitalist path of industrial development, which at the micro-levels endangered the food security of the small and marginal farmers as well as sharecroppers who formed the vote bank of the left front government of West Bengal The new anti-communist Trinamul Congress led government of West Bengal which came to power in the state in 2011 through a massive electoral victory is yet to develop any comprehensive resettlement and rehabilitation policy for the thousands of families affected by various development projects. The new government has enacted a law on 14 June 2011, in the West Bengal Assembly named ‘Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, 2011’. With this law, the West Bengal government has reacquired about 1000 acres of farmland from the Tatas which wasgiven to the company for building a small-car manufacturing factory in 2006 by the then Left Front government. The Trinamul government’s intention was to return 400 acres of farmland to the ‘unwilling’ farmers around whom the agitation against the Left Front government was organised by the Trinamul Congress party. However, now the whole issue seems to have fallen into a long legal battle between the present state government and the Tatas, as the latter has challenged the ‘Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act’ in the court. As a result, the Trinamul government has not yet been able to return the land to those ‘unwilling farmers’ nor have they received any compensation (The Statesman, 12 January, 2012).In another case of governmental land acquisition for housing at North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal, the farmers began to cultivate their farmland which were acquired but remained unutilised. According to media report these farmers were assured by the Trinamul Congress party leaders before the election that their land, which is about 1687 acres would be returned to them if the party could come to power. However, now these farmers are turning their backs to the Trinamul Congress, since the party has not kept its pre-election promise (The Statesman, 11 February, 2012). Under the above disturbing episodes, it may be worthwhile to narrate the glaring incident of the opposition levelled by Mamata Banerjee, the present chief minister of West Bengal to the draft Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill 2007 in the Lok Sabha. At that time Miss Mamata Banerjee was the Railway Minister of the Central Government. She opposed to a clause of the bill which empowered private companies to acquire up to 70 per cent land directly from farmers and landowners. The remaining 30 per cent could be acquired by the state government. Miss Banerjee wanted private companies to buy 100 per cent of the land, according to a report (The Statesman, 26 July 2009). It seemed that Miss Banerjee would have allowed the amended Bill to be passed if the Lok Sabha agreed to modify the 70/30 proportion to 100 per cent purchase by the companies under the principleof willing-buyer-willing-seller.
Eminent domain doctrine has been widely used in India since the era of Independence, with over 21.6 million people in the period of 1951-90. They have been displaced with large-scale projects like dams, canals, thermal plants, sanctuaries, industrial facilities, and mining (Pellissery and Dey Biswas 2012, pp 32–54). These occurrences are generally categorized as “development-induced displacement“.
The process of land acquisition in India has proven unpopular with the citizenry. The amount reimbursed is fairly low with regard to the current index of prices prevailing in the economy. Furthermore, due to the low level of human capital of the displaced people, they often fail to find adequate employment ().
The draft of the government’s National Policy for Rehabilitation states that a figure around 75% of the displaced people since 1951 are still awaiting rehabilitation. However, it should be noted that displacement is only being considered with regard to “Direct Displacement”. These rehabilitation policies do not cover fishermen, landless laborers, and artisans. Roughly one in ten Indian tribals is a displaced person. Dam projects have displaced close to a million Adivasis, with similar woe for displaced Dalits. Some estimate suggests 40 percent of displaced people are of tribal origins (Fernandes, 2008).
There have been a rising number of political and social protests against the acquisition of land by various industrialists. They have ranged from Bengal, Karnataka, and Uttar Pradesh in the recent past. The acquisition of 997 acres of land by Tata motors in Bengal in order to set up a factory for the cheapest car in India was protested (Singur Tata Nano controversy).At least a decade before the Singur episode similar events occurred in West Bengal, although the opposition parties and other civil society organisations remained silent at that time. Similarly, the Sardar Sarovar Dam project on the river Narmada was planned on acquired land, though the project was later canceled by the World Bank (Bøås and McNeill 2003, pp 121-122, 125, 142-43 and more).
The Land Acquisition Act of 1894 allowed the government to acquire private lands. It is the only legislation pertaining to land acquisition which, though amended several times, has failed to serve its purpose. Under the 1894 Act, displaced people were only liable for monetary compensation linked with market value of the land in question, which was still quite minimal considering circle rates are often misleading (Singh 2007). Land acquisition related conflicts during the post-reform period in India has shown three distinctive tendencies; (1) Technocracy and Bundle of Rights, (2) Power-land Regulation Nexus, and (3) Disappearing Commons.
Controversy Over Proposed Amendments by Narendra Modi Government
The current Narendra Modi lead National Democratic Alliance (India) government driven Land Acquisition Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha on 10 March 2015 has seen a tough resistance from key position parties in India who have called the proposed amendments “anti farmer” and “anti poor”. The proposed amendments remove requirements for approval from farmers to proceed with land acquisition under five broad categories of projects. While the bill was passed in Lok Sabha, it still needs approval from the Rajya Sabha, where the current government does not have a majority, for the proposed amendments to become effective.
The following are the main “disputation points”:
- The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 defines ‘consent’ clause as “land can only be acquired with approval of the 70% of the land owners for PPP projects and 80% for the private entities. But the proposed amendments by the Narendra Modi government does away with consent clause for Industrial corridors, Public Private Partnership projects, Rural Infrastructure, Affordable housing and defense projects.
- The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 says the land unutilized for 5 years should be returned to the owner, but the amendment proposed by NDA government intends to change to 5 years or any period specified at the time of setting up the project.
- While the The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 allows private companies to acquire land but the proposed amendment allows any private entity to acquire land.
- According to the new amendment if any government official conducts any wrongdoing he or she cannot be prosecuted without prior sanction from the government.
- The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 mandated the social assessment before land acquisition but the NDA government’s proposed bill does away with this requirement.
The National Democratic Alliance (India) government came under heavy attacks from opposition parties and farmer organization for the proposed Land Acquisition bill amendments. The opponents of the Land acquisition bill claim the bill to be “anti-farmer” and “pro corporate”. They claim that the amendments are aimed at “benefiting the large corporate houses”.
The opposition Indian National Congress has opposed the bill in and out of Parliament. Sonia Gandhi, the chairperson of UPA and Indian National Congress, called the bill “anti-poor” and “anti-farmer”. She alleged that the bill will “break the backbone of India”.
Not only the opposition parties but also other organization that traditionally supported Bharatiya Janta Party such as Mazdoor Sangh, Bhartiya Kisan Sangh and Akhil Bhartiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram have come heavily against the amendments proposed by the Narendra Modi lead NDA government. As per the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, the Modi government’s land ordinance tweaks the fundamentals of the The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 passed by the UPA government and supported by the BJP two years ago.   
|Project||State||Displaced Population||Tribal Percentage|
|Mahi Bajaj Sajar||Rajasthan||38,400||76.28|
|Maithon & Panchet||Bihar||93,874||56.46|
One of the alternative proposals to land acquisition is leasing the land from landowners for a certain lease period. Proponents cite how land acquisition policies by Governments unwittingly encourage rampant land speculation making the projects expensive since huge portion of investment would be need to be allocated for land acquisition costs. According to them, policies of land acquisition gave way to political cronyism where land is acquired cheaply by securing favors from local governments and sold to industries at steep markup prices. Leasing land, may also support sustainable project development since the lands need to be returned to the landowners at the end of the lease period in a condition similar to its original form with out considerable environmental degradation. When the land is leased then anybody who has to otherwise give up land or livelihood will be compensated for its growing valuation over time. In this model, the landowner lends her land to the government for a steadily-increasing rent, or through an annuity-based system as currently practiced in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
Some industries already follow the model of leasing lands instead of acquiring it. Energy development projects such as oil & gas extraction usually lease lands. Renewable energy projects such as Wind Power farms and Bio-fuel projects often lease the land from land owners instead of trying to acquire the land which could make the projects prohibitively expensive.