As many as 130 districts across India have witnessed land conflicts in the past two years. Land- related unrest is expected to rise over the next 15 years as over 11 million hectares of land would be required for various projects.

This has been revealed in a study by Washington- based group Rights and Resources Initiative ( RRI) and Delhibased Society for Promotion of Wastelands Development released on Monday.

The acquisition of private land is only one facet of the land issue, the study says.

More problematic is state- sponsored takeover of forest, common and revenue lands for various projects in violation of existing laws. Government data shows that common lands are declining at a rate of about two percent a year.

The government is using three different ways to acquire common and forest lands, the study says.

The first mechanism is simply criminal breach of law, as observed in Bellary.

The second involves using forest laws to expropriate common lands. The third mechanism is misuse of revenue laws under which state governments have general power to control classification of land that permits them t to get around provisions either through loopholes or by ignoring them.

The concept of “ wasteland” is frequently invoked to justify this kind of action.

“ It would be surprising if there is any large project in the country today that did not involve some takeover of community or forest and common lands”, pointed out Shankar Gopalakrishnan, one of the researchers.

The consequences of land acquisition go beyond obvious impacts of clearing forests. The effects include pollution, damage to water table, additional resources taken from the surrounding areas, changes in ecosystem and loss of livelihoods because of destroyed lands.

On paper, several laws exist that purport to provide protection to common lands, but in practice laws hardly matter. “ Right now, one part of the government or another is in violation of the provisions of various Acts. Is there no penalty for violating legislation already on the statute books?" said Arvind Khare of RRI. In addition, Indian investors and statesponsored firms are grabbing up large stretches of fertile lands in Africa to grow crops and extract commodities for domestic and global markets, the study said.

Khare said. “ Anecdotal evidence suggests that Indian investors have been as disrespectful of people's rights as the Chinese.

They are repeating a pattern that is all too familiar in India”, Khare said.

Source: Mail Today Bureau 19 Dec 2012
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