September 24, 2008 10:45:48 pm
At a time when land acquisition by state governments for industrial projects is generating controversies, Punjab Government has acquired almost 7,000 acres in the last one year without even a murmur of dissent. In addition, most of this land is arable — an argument often used to vilify land acquisition. The state Government is about to finalise acquisition of another 3,000 acres.
It is not as if Punjab has never faced land acquisition protests. Not long ago, several projects here were left in abeyance due to paucity of land. A notable example is that of the DLF SEZ in Amritsar. Despite having the mandate of PM Manmohan Singh, it never took off.
The change can be attributed to the new acquisition policy, which was adopted by the state Government when the Akali Dal-BJP combine came to power last year. Under this policy, it was decided that the land would be acquired at the prevailing market price. More importantly, the policy announced that a three-member team would be constituted, comprising the district magistrate, MLA and MP of the area, who would determine the market price after talking directly to the farmers. In addition, the Government provided for a 30 per cent displacement allowance. This ensured that complaints of a low market price and not having accounted for future escalations (as witnessed in the land acquisition controversy for Nagpur airport) were prevented.
The policy also provided that if displaced people decide to invest their compensation in buying land elsewhere in Punjab, they will be exempted from stamp duty on initial purchase and entitled to a free tubewell connection.
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The efficacy of this policy was soon proved by the smooth acquisition of 310 acres of land for the international airport at Mohali. The process, which required acquisition of land from 175 farmers, was completed expeditiously with farmers being paid a record compensation of Rs 1.50 crore per acre.
Subsequently, the Government also acquired 2,500 acres of land for Guru Gobind Singh Oil Refinery at Bathinda, a joint venture between HPCL and the Mittal Group. Around 2,213 acres of land was acquired for Talwandi Sabbo, touted as the biggest thermal plant in the country. Another 1,000 acres were acquired for a thermal plant in Goindwal Sahib, 2,000 acres for a thermal plant in Rajpura and 2,640 acres for a power plant in Muktsar. The new policy has also been successful in solving earlier controversies. For example, acquisition of 376 acres of land by textile major Trident Group near Barnala had set off a serious agitation during the previous government’s tenure. But the situation came under control after compensation was offered to farmers under this scheme.
Buoyed by this, the Government has announced a land-pooling scheme to accumulate land in order to minimise delays for various projects. Here, the farmer would have the option of either taking half the developed land and some compensation, or he can get compensation for the entire land at market rate. For example, if out of the land acquired from a farmer, the Government develops four residential plots and two commercial showrooms, the farmer would get two residential plots and one showroom besides a fixed amount of compensation.
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