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Land Acquisition a Sustainable Development Issue?

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Is Land acquisition a Sustainable Development issue? Research and write about stakeholder engagement and suggest a way forward for Indian business.

Looking back at 2010, what is the biggest hurdle in the Indian growth story that occurs in myriad reports and research? The one word answer is 'land'.

Increased economic growth has only increased the many alternative uses of land, such as for agriculture, industries, infrastructure (roads, railways, power, telecom, mining etc), building houses, malls and other economic activities.

Land that is well connected to markets is especially scarce. The most productive agricultural land, on average, is the best connected. Plus, India needs raw materials for fuelling its growth, which are to be found in the interiors of the country. However, tribes -- communities used to the idea of 'commons' -- suddenly find that their land actually belongs to the government which can sell it off as it deems fit.

These tribal communities used to live in an ecologically sustainable fashion. By bringing in 'development,' we end up disturbing the way of their lives and the ecological balance of the region. Mining or building roads through deep forests translates to disturbing the biodiversity of the land. But does that mean we should stop 'development'?

To discuss these questions we can look upon two cases of land acquisition and Indian government behaviour in both the cases.

The first one is of the Niyamgiri hills.It is a classic example of how an Indigeneous tribe got the international community and Indian government to stand up for them.

The Indian government was actually standing up for an isolated tribe against a multinational corporation that promised profit. In a country still struggling to balance development with socio-environmental safeguards, this was a rare and emphatic victory for the other side.

In the bigger scheme of things this was just another industrial project in India,where Verdana Resources wanted land for "Bauxite mining", but closer to the ground, it threatened to destroy the culture and environment of 650 hectares of forested land and the native Dongaria-Kondh tribe,who have lived in these mountains for centuries, and have maintained a self-sufficient agrarian lifestyle, living in complete harmony with their environment;the land isn't only a means of livelihood, it is the foundation of their faith.

The region is familiar with stories of displaced tribes struggling to survive after their land has been razed; those affected include the residents of Lanjigarh village, where the Vedanta Alumina Plant is located. This is the fate the Dongaria-Kondh want to avoid and hence despite pressure, the Dongaria-Kondh have remained strong, and with the support of civil rights groups and international organizations like Survival International, ActionAid and Amnesty International they have taken the fight to a global stage. This resulted in the Government rejecting the company's bauxite mining proposal for Niyamgiri in Orissa, and initiating further investigations into project discrepancies.

After operating for a long time on a 'for the greater good' principle, for the first time government have realized that it is not an 'either-or' problem of choosing between growth at the rate of 9-10% or conserving forests and communities which live on these forests.

The country witnessed a lethal Maois Uprising across the poorest regions. Marginalized rural communities are taking up arms and the bodies are piling up; the cost of development is now hitting the majority and it's for the greater good that the government pays heed to their concerns.

The other case is of a reknowned business group TATA building a plant in Singhur to build a car for the lower middle class indian.This was protested by the local people whose land has been acquired. A local rural movement challenging the land acquisition soon attracted the support of various activist groups and political parties from across India, and in late 2008 it succeeded in forcing Tata Motors to abandon Singur. In spite of massive public attention that the Singur controversy received, and the fierce criticism of the Left Front that it generated, the voices of those who fundamentally challenged the policy of industrialising through private capital in the name of development have been rather marginal. Rather than opposing and / or promoting alternatives to the 'neoliberal' post-reform models of development pursued in India, the Singur controversy should be seen as part of a popular effort to civilise rather than substitute contemporary forms of capitalist development to ensure that some of the benefits do trickle down.But here the chemistry between land and the owners was different than that of Niyamgiri Hills.

While some households depended almost exclusively on the cultivation of marginal plots for their livelihood, many did not as they had access to cash income from family members variously employed. Thus, according to the survey conducted by Kenneth Bo Nielsen Centre for Development and the Environment, University of Oslo, Norwa in "Contesting India's Development? Industrialisation, Land Acquisition and



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