As the debate over the government’s land ordinance becomes sharper inside and outside Parliament, here’s an example of a win-win acquisition.
Maharashtra, the home state of Anna Hazare, who was in Delhi protesting the ordinance last week, has acquired, with little more than a whimper of opposition, over 3,500 hectares of farm land near Aurangabad — the biggest land acquisition of its kind since the UPA’s original law came into effect 15 months ago.
Over 3,000 farmers have given up their land to the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) for the Shendra-Bidkin Industrial Park on the Maharashtra side of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC).
Reason: double the local reckoner rates, apart from separate compensation for orchards, and re-tooling of farmers to help them start life afresh.
The UPA’s land act — The Right to Fair Compensation, Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 — was already in force when the acquisition was nearly completed in 2014, but the then Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra chose not to invoke it.
Using flexibility provided under the MIDC Act, 1961, the MIDC began bilateral negotiations with the affected farmers. This process ended with maximum remuneration being fixed at a record Rs 23 lakh per acre.
Datta Kirde, 33, a farmer from Karmad, a rapidly urbanising village 22 km from Aurangabad, who negotiated with DMIC in multiple meetings over several months even as the UPA’s land law was in the works, was clear that this was an excellent price. “We were getting a better deal than any law could provide,” Kirde said.
Politicians and bureaucrats involved in the Shendra-Bidkin acquisition concede unhesitatingly that the negotiations were made easy by the fact that large tracts of land in this arid, drought-hit region are very difficult to cultivate. Just about 5 per cent of the acquired land is irrigated.
And yet, as Kirde said, “arid or otherwise, drought-hit or not, farmers do not really want to give up land.” He said he had been among the last to agree — and when he finally did, “it was because the compensation was considerably more than anything I have ever made off my land.”
Kirde, who owns a motorcycle showroom in Karmad, had nine acres of cotton, corn and sweet lime farms. The MIDC paid him Rs 23 lakh per acre and, following a survey by government horticulturists, another Rs 60 lakh for his chikoo and mosambi trees.
The loss of wells, standing orchards and other farm infrastructure were also compensated, even though several of Karmad’s landowners have contested the assessment made by the horticulture survey.
At Rs 23 lakh an acre, Kirde knew he was raking in nearly twice the market rate of farm land in 2014. Only in 2011, farmers in neighbouring Ladgaon, which too is impacted by the DMIC, had agreed to give up their land for Rs 8 lakh to Rs 10 lakh an acre.
At a time when protests against land acquisition were stalling projects countrywide, MIDC succeeded, according to officials, by establishing direct contact with as many villagers as possible, offering a handsome price for the land, and paying up immediately.
It helped that despite the presence of an MLA each from NCP and Congress, an MP from Shiv Sena, and a guardian minister from Congress, there was minimal political interference. And while there were some protests, the local farmer community did not back the activists.
MIDC’s Regional Officer A M Shinde, seen by the villagers as the face of the government’s acquisition machinery, made more than 20 visits to each of the affected villages.
“I had a clear answer to their question on what was in it for them and their families,” Shinde said. “There were three things: the rate for the land would be more than fair, they would get a percentage of the developed land later, and MIDC would help them build entrepreneurial or other skills that would bring them huge opportunities as the area developed.”
The promise of being able to buy back 15 per cent of the land at acquisition rates after infrastructure had been built was a big draw. “Even if I don’t start up my own project on that plot, if I just rent it out, I will make more than I did as a farmer,” said Bhaurao Mulay, a Karmad farmer who moonlights as a journalist.
The realty boom is already visible along the highway, where billboards promise everything from luxury homes to affordable hotel accommodation. Mulay said highway-side land is selling for as much as Rs 50 lakh to Rs 1 crore per acre — much like what has been happening around Dolera on the Gujarat side of the DMIC.
MIDC Chief Executive Officer Bhushan Gagrani said a key lesson from the success of the Shendra-Bidkin land acquisition was to ensure that local people are not completely uprooted. “Keeping locals out of development is not good for the local economy anyway,” he said.
More important, Gagrani pointed out, was the flexibility in the MIDC Act, which allows compulsory land acquisition as well as acquisition by consent. That MIDC had the funds to shell out Rs 1,800 crore to buy 3,500-plus hectares of land was equally significant, he said.
The farmers were explained the deal in detail. Regional Officer Shinde would also show up in the affected villages armed with charts showing the input cost for various crops, the yield in good years, and compare those figures with the potential interest earnings from a large compensation package. The strategy clicked.
Vishnu Khade, manager of the Karmad branch of the Deogiri Cooperative Bank, said Rs 125 crore was deposited in his bank by about 100 farmers who had given up their land for the DMIC project. Many depositors subsequently used their money to buy other pieces of land, rebuild their homes or start businesses. But about Rs 40 crore is still parked with the bank, mostly in the form of fixed deposits earning 10 per cent annually.
MIDC started some skill development classes for farmers who had given up their land, but put them on hold until it becomes clear what industries move to Shendra-Bidkin. “The process of educating farmers on using this money judiciously should begin along with the acquisition process,” said Mulay, who invested the compensation for his 24 acres in farm land in Jalna and a highway-facing plot on which he has built a 16-room hotel.