It all happened within the span of a week. Farmers died in police firing during protests over land acquisition in Aligarh.
The Union Government has announced in Parliament that it would revive the move for a comprehensive legislation on land acquisition and rehabilitation.
The Supreme Court, in an unrelated case, ruled that once the Government has acquired land through a legitimate process, the original owner cannot claim it back on the premise that the purpose for which the land was acquired has not been met. The Supreme Court’s verdict relates to a matter pertaining to Pune, in which Pune Municipal Transport built a bus shelter instead of the originally planned staff quarters.
On the face of it, the judgment reduces the rights of the original owner. But this, only after land has been acquired through a valid process.
In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled in a matter pertaining to Goa that the purpose for which land is being acquired must be kept in mind while awarding compensation. For a commercial purpose, it ruled, the compensation must be higher. The judgment set the stage for fairer acquisitions.
The agitation at Aligarh for greater land compensation is not an isolated case. Land is a scarce commodity, and acquisition an emotive issue. While a part of the problem is the state government’s handling of the issue, another major cause is the Centre’s failure to come up with a comprehensive law on this. This allows politicians and colonisers to exploit the poor to their convenience. Farmers are forced to give up land cheap or become victims of violence.
Land owners must be compensated not by making the prevailing market rates a benchmark, but by sharing the commercial gains that future projects on that land will yield.