Saturday, May 19, 2012




India needed a Good, effective, Fair Land acquisition Bill over 60 years ago, in 1947.  But, we never seem to have understood what exactly is the meaning of PUBLIC PURPOSE.

Public Purpose, in my view, is nothing more than and nothing other than  “production of Essential Public goods and services.”

All Goods and services can be categorized into Goods/services of essential nature, items of comfort and items of luxury.

Items of Luxury are not essential Goods – by definition. We don’t need a Government acquisition or allocation of Land for production of a tooth paste, face powder, or protein rich drink and so on at cheap prices. Nor do we need it even for production of clothing. There are already too many Textile Mills with vast land Banks, not knowing what to do with their surplus Land.

The definition of Essential Goods and services is therefore important; but, this definition has been changing over time. Today, Electricity is an absolutely essential Public good. 60 years ago, it probably was not. Today, life becomes absolutely PRIMITIVE without electricity.

So is Gas, petrol and Diesel. India will come to a standstill without these goods. Therefore, these are essential Goods.

Railways are an essential service.

A Bus station in each town is an essential Public good.

A cremation Ground is an essential service. If it is not properly allocated, some are occupying vast tracts of land in prime localities  for this purpose. Government must allocate space for cremation Ground and make provision for essential supplies there.

Provision of healthy drinking water is an essential service. Go to some districts In Telengana in AP and see how many people walk with crooked legs-because of lack of safe drinking water. Go to Rayala seema districts of AP and see how many places are lacking water supply almost totally. Government must supply pure, healthy drinking water to all citizens – and in this one area, I would say, it is the DIRECT RESPONSIBILITY of the Governments at Centre and state to supply such water. It can’t be left to private parties alone, as is being done now.

A Hospital is an essential service. But, if there are more than two already, the third becomes a luxury (in a town).

A school providing up to Higher secondary Education is an essential service in any Town. Beyond two such schools, a third becomes a service of COMFORT. A general school offering secular education, irrespective of caste and religious preference is an absolutely essential item.

Good, walkable/Motorable Roads are an essential item. There should be no doubt about it.

Are steel Mills an essential Item or not? They are. Without steel, there is no economic Progress. Buildings, Buses, cars, roads, electrical generation and distribution, agriculture – why – every area of public life needs steel. The injection needle, the stethoscope and all implements of the Doctor – need steel. It is an essential Item. All these essential items of public goods and services need Land. Where do you get the land for them? Government must find suitable land and allocate it to each purpose.

What will happen if Government fails to do it this way?

Either these essential Goods cannot find the Land needed for them – or, they will find the most unsuitable land for them. Today, at many places in Tamilnadu, one can find Engineering Colleges in the midst of Agricultural Lands! If Governments were to allocate, they could allocate Land otherwise available as waste Government lands. For this purpose also, we do need a Land acquisition Bill. For a Software Technology Park, Governments do find beautiful Lands – but not for Higher secondary schools. This is the Paradox today. Government must find suitable places and allocate spaces for Good schools with all amenities in each town.

The AP Government had allocated hundreds of acres to many industrialists and Home builders. I have no issues with it, if there is no dispute in it. But, if they had identified the Public Purposes at each place – and allocated land for them first; well, each place would have had schools, Hospitals, Cremation Grounds, water supply and other Basic necessities (in each town). And yet, Governments could also find the land needed for all Industries. This is the paradox in India. 

The real public purposes are not being identified and these requirements are not being attended to first.

Therefore, the definition of public purpose is very important. To my mind, it is nothing other than production of ALL ESSENTIAL PUBLIC GOODS AND SERVICES.

There is no doubt, that a PPP type of arrangement hastens the provision of all essential Goods and services.

Who produces the essential Public Goods and services is not at all important – until sufficient, essential public goods are produced. This is an foremost principle that Governments must follow in land acquisition and allocation.

Beyond this, further provision of the services makes them items of comfort and thereafter, of luxury.

A public school, where the rich pay lakhs of rupees for  first standard education of their children – is an atrocious purpose for the Government to intervene and procure Land- especially agricultural land, at cheap cost. But a general school where the rich and poor both can study, irrespective of caste, religion and levels of poverty – is an essential public purpose, which requires Government’s active intervention. It is its duty as per Directive Principles of state Policy. If Government cannot establish such school, let it be left to a GOOD, EDUCATIONAL Organization, which serves all, and not just a section of society.

Some clarifications are still needed.

If ONGC produces oil and Gas, it is a public purpose. If the same is produced by Reliance or Cairn, is it not a public purpose? It is. Oil and gas are available where they are – and cannot be produced by ONGC or Reliance anywhere else. It is a public Good and its production by whoever is licensed to produce it – is a PUBLIC PURPOSE. Not calling it a Public purpose – is ridiculous and a travesty. Same is true with a steel mill. If Government identifies and procures land for it as for a public purpose, the steel mill will be of great public service. If not, it may land up in the wrong place.

If Government itself sets up electrical plants, nuclear power plants etc in wrong places, it serves lesser public purpose, more inefficiently. A Nuclear power plant can best be established in a place where there is no human habitation in a 20 KM radius. But, if the same is established in a crowded locality – it is bound to invite problems and criticism.

Many sugar plants today are in NOT SO IDEAL PLACES – thanks to respective governments’ inactivity in the past. So are many other plants, which pour out harmful effluents into rivers, water streams etc – and make potable drinking water unavailable to people. The Great Ganga is in a bad state today, because of this one reason.

So, two aspects emerge from this discussion on Land acquisition :

(i)                  Government must procure land for essential public purposes (as defined above) and make available to Industry at appropriate prices. In the process, if land of private persons, including farmers, is to be acquired, Government must pay them well and charge it to the Industry which needs the land. The lives of the land owners must not be put in Peril at all. Taking care of their lives to their reasonable satisfaction - is an integral part of the same public purpose.
(ii)                 For non-public purposes (like software technology parks, other Industries etc) – if Governments can identify ideal location from government lands and charge the Industry at commercial Rates, there should be no problem. If no such Government Land is available, Industry may acquire it on their own, from Land owners. But, even in such cases, Government must monitor the Fair prices paid to Land owners and can intervene to settle disputes. It is not advisable that such issues must go before regular Courts, which can take years for disposing them off. On the other hand, special tribunals must deal with them faster and dispose of disputes to mutual satisfaction.

We needed the Land acquisition Bill, as earlier said, over 60 years ago. If, at least now, we can pass a Good, fair, effective Land acquisition Bill, which takes care of Land acquisition / allocation in a fair way and ensure faster growth of India,  we would have succeeded in reversing the current sluggishness in Industrial growth.

It would an opportunity wasted - if we talk of Land acquisition merely from the Industry point of view or from the Farmers' view point - and leave out the essential economic goal of India- including that of the Industry, of the land owner and of the vast citizens of India, who are deprived of so many essential public goods and services to day.  

We wish Politicians rise to the occasion and ensure that a Good,comprehensive Land acquisition Bill is Passed in this session.

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