Indian farmers protest colonial practices of land acquisition

Thousands of farmers in India are against the government’s plans to build a new highway. With two-thirds of the country’s population dependent on agriculture, land acquisition turns out to be a sensitive issue.

Indian farmers took to their capital recently in protest against a government takeover of their land to build a new $2 billion highway.

This followed the death of three farmers who were killed after police opened fire on protestors in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

“We will not give our land for development at any price. We are ready to die, and will not allow anyone to step on our land,” said protestor Jaipal Singh Advani. “Farmers have woken up and become conscious. There is no question of us giving our land to the government now.”

The protests have stalled government efforts to acquire farmland for industry in India, which means developers have been forced to put their roads, refineries and power plants on hold.

“The major challenge is the land acquisition. The project should not even take off without 80 percent land in hand, and that is what government is trying to do,” said the director of an infrastructure development company, H S Kohli.

“Projects are allotted day after day, and the land available to you is only 20-30 percent. Then the delays are inevitable, the delays will happen, the challenges will be there, the private player will suffer losses,” he added.

Land is an emotional issue in a country where two-thirds of the population is still dependent on agriculture. 55-year old Tejvar Singh does not want to sell, but knows some offers would be hard to turn down.

“If my land goes, I will lose my livelihood. What will I do?” he said. “So I say, if you are going to take my farm, give me a fair price for my land as well as a job.”

The president of the Farmer’s Struggle Committee, Manveer Singh Tevatia, says the man’s demands are fair.

“Farmers are not against development,” he said. “All he is saying is: ‘Give me fair compensation, a price that I am satisfied with.’”

“The same land that is being taken from us is being sold by the developer at over 10 times the price he paid us,” Tevatia added.

Some analysts believe that acquiring prime agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes could spur a food crisis in the country.

“There will be no food to eat. Without the land, what will we eat?” said a villager, Anil. “We will have no option but to take up arms. Our youngsters are ready and we have teams set up. Either the government listens to our demands within a month, or we will take action.”

The farmers do have a point. After all, the government uses a colonial-era law to pay tiny amounts of compensation to farmers to buy their land for development projects.

This law should be updated by the end of the year, to guarantee market prices for farmers. But until it does, vital infrastructure projects remain in limbo, something Asia’s third-largest economy can ill afford.