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Tribal Women's Perspective on the Land Acquisition Bill

The Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011 views all social and economic forms of organisation in the country as a homogeneous whole, ignoring the differences within rural areas and in tribal societies. Especially in the latter, not only is the overall perception of resources like land distinct from non-tribal areas but even the role of women is much more dominant both inside and outside the home. In giving emphasis to cash rather than land as compensation and zeroing in on the male as the head of the household among other provisions, the Bill lays the groundwork for the destruction of these societies.


Tribal Women’s Perspective on the Land Acquisition Bill

Mudunuri Bharathi

The Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011 views all social and economic forms of organisation in the country as a homogeneous whole, ignoring the differences within rural areas and in tribal societies. Especially in the latter, not only is the overall perception of resources like land distinct from non-tribal areas but even the role of women is much more dominant both inside and outside the home. In giving emphasis to cash rather than land as compensation and zeroing in on the male as the head of the household among other provisions, the Bill lays the groundwork for the destruction of these societies.

Mudunuri Bharathi ( is a freelance researcher who has worked on developing a Marxian methodology for social science research.

n the last 65 years, a number of stateled interventions have been initiated for developing the Indian economy. India was modelled as a traditional economy and to transform this agrarian traditional economy into a modern one with an industrial base, capital investment in the form of fi nances, technology or knowledge, was used as the instrument. Accepting this premise, dams like the Hirakud dam in Orissa, and factories like the steel factories at Rourkela, Bokaro and Tatanagar were established. These, coupled with interventions in the service sector such as railways, national laboratories, schools and hospitals, were expected to usher in a new and developed modern society. During the last two decades, these processes have accelerated with special economic zones in industry and information technologybased activities, corporate run hospitals and educational institutions and modern transport systems being set up. This phase of industrialisation is expected to generate export oriented large-scale production systems, which, coupled with a rapidly growing outward looking service sector will facilitate conditions that will make India a part of the global economy. One commonality of all these interventions is that they require land leading to a large number of people being uprooted. People displaced by these projects lost their livelihoods, their skills and knowledge along with access to resources such as land, hills, forests and rivers. The nature of industrial establishments and the service sector is such that they cannot provide alternate employment to these people and integrate them into the modern system. Not only are a majority of them displaced from their ancestral/original system they are also marginalised in the evolving system. They are viewed with contempt as

obstructions to the progress of the new society. These surplus producing people in their native system become surplus people in the new system, depending thereafter on the mercy of the state.

The quantum of these surplus people is increasing indicating that more the capital investment, more will be the generation of surplus people. These displaced/ marginalised surplus people knowing that there is no hope of survival have been agitating against these developmental projects throughout the country.

The Agitations

Forced land acquisition (even if it was for a public purpose), with the help of the Land Acquisition Act 1894 of the colonial and the consequent agitations against the land acquisitions followed by the violence unleashed by the state provided momentum to the agitations. The events have remained the same over the last 65 years – there were agitations against the initial dams – Hirakud and Rengali in Orissa. Even as early as that there was police action against the agitators. More recently, in Singur and Nandigram, there were agitations against the Tatas and the Salem group in West Bengal and the Tata Steel plant in Kalinganagar, the Vedanta aluminium refinery project in Jagatsinghpur, the Posco steel plant also in Jagatsinghpur (all in Orissa), the Sompeta thermal power plant (Nagarjuna company) in Andhra Pradesh and in Greater Noida in Uttar Pradesh, all of these requiring police intervention against the agitators. Among these, the Singur and Nandigram land struggles were powerful enough to force a change of guard at the helm of the state and the new government was forced to come up with a new land acquisition policy. With the Noida farmers’ struggle, the need for a pan- India solution in the form of a revised land acquisition policy came to the forefront.

The general perspective regarding all these agitations is that the displaced (they are called affected families in the Act) people are greedy and determined to bargain for more compensation and other benefi ts.

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To some extent, this perception is true as seen in Noida where the state was forced to set compensation amounts not equivalent to the circle rates but as their multiples, in order to address these concerns. This description is not applicable to other agitations in the country. For instance, the Singur and anti-Posco agitations were distinct in that the people were opposed to the projects and not looking for higher compensation amounts.

The history of the displaced people in various parts of the country in the last 60 years has taught them that they can only look forward to displacement and the destruction of access to other resources without the possibility of a role in the new society. Perhaps these agitations are a warning to the government, that this developmental path is not acceptable to the people who are therefore demanding a mid-course correction. This is true of agitations in states like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal and Orissa.

The Bill and Salient Features

The Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011 (LARR Bill 2011) is applicable throughout India (except Jammu and Kashmir). It has two objectives, the first relates to the free flow of capital without any hurdles and the second relates to the welfare of the project-affected people. The fi rst objective is met by “facilitating land acquisition for industrialisation, development of essential infrastructure facilities and urbanisation”. The second objective which, in fact, becomes a corollary of the former in practice is realised by “comprehensively defining and identifying project-affected persons/families to ensure that they are provided with a just compensation and rehabilitation and resettlement package, sensitive to the aspirations, culture, community, natural resource base and skill base of the affected people”.

The salient features in the Bill are as follows:

  • (1) Land can be acquired at a place where at least 80% of the affected families give their consent. Multi-crop irrigated land shall be acquired only as a last resort measure.
  • (2) Compensation for landowners includes market value of land (to be multiplied by three in rural areas), value of other
  • assets attached to the land such as buildings, trees, wells/crops, etc, and in addition a solatium amount of 100% on total compensation (the number this is to be multiplied by has been changing over a period of time depending on the region.)

  • (3) Comprehensive rehabilitation and resettlement package for landowners including subsistence allowance, job, house, and an acre of land in case of irrigation projects, transportation and resettlement allowances are proposed. In case of industry, employment for one member of the family and in cases where this is not possible, Rs 5 lakh is proposed to be given.
  • (4) The special package for scheduled tribes and scheduled castes under the Bill envisages additional benefits of 2.5 acres of land and one-time fi nancial assistance of Rs 50,000.
  • (5) Infrastructural amenities are proposed to be provided in the rehabilitation colonies.
  • (6) A social impact assessment is also to be prepared.
  • A noteworthy aspect is the special proposals for scheduled tribe families affected by the projects. While this is

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    laudable, especially as tribal families may not generally have well-defi ned land rights and hence could lose out on the compensation systems proposed, it is important to assess whether these measures are adequate by themselves and/or whether they can be improved upon. This article undertakes this exercise from the point of view of a tribal woman.

    Problematic Assumptions

    The long distance vision from the national capital of those who drafted the Bill generates distortions in capturing reality. The Bill is based on three important assumptions:

    Homogeneity: Different states/regions are viewed as similar with respect to their social and economic organisation, leading to a homogenous whole. The Bill captures differences only in terms of density of population, giving rise to the rural-urban divide. However, it does not capture differences in forms of livelihood and organisation within rural areas. This is a crucial element in ensuring that the affected families are suitably resettled.

    The Family: Family is viewed as a cogent well-knit unit of individuals, largely through their ownership of assets/resources. In social systems where there are no definitions of ownership of resources, access to resources defi nes the individuals and correspondingly the concept of families too could be more fluid. Locating the family through the head of the household in such cases can create imbalances within the existing social order.

    Cash in Lieu of Land and Other Facilities: Providing compensation in terms of land in lieu of land has been scrapped and market-dependent cash form of compensation is proposed for the land lost as well as for most of the other rehabilitation and resettlement facilities. In places where markets are nonfunctional or where socio-economic organisations are not completely monetised, this could result in impoverishment as a consequence of displacement.

    The implications of the above assumptions on a tribal woman are explored in greater detail below.

    Different Perceptions of Land

    The Bill extends to the whole of India (except J & K), and the rehabilitation and resettlement framework is to apply to all projects in India wherein voluntary displacement takes place. However, equating rural areas across the country may have unintended consequences. This is reflected in the different responses to the land acquisition initiatives. While the Noida farmers’ agitation was a struggle to get better terms of compensation (with higher compensation packages the farmers came forward to sell their lands) in the other agitations like the ones in Singur or in Orissa, the focus was on opposing these changes as they are seen as being responsible for the loss of livelihoods. This indicates differences in perception regarding land as a resource in the above two rural areas. In the tribal areas, of which the author has some personal experience, they generally do not have a patta (an authorised deed specifying the ownership either of the cultivable land or homestead land); it is only their access to the resources which is important. Their livelihood, lifestyle and culture are intertwined with the natural resources such as land, forests, rivers, and hills, of which the vast expansive limitless land available easily and freely is one of the many resources, without any special significance. Every individual works on the premise that his livelihood depends only on his capacity to cultivate, as defined by the labour resources at his disposal and is not constrained by the amount of land owned/ available. Distinct from such a tribal system, it is possible to visualise a second system, where land has only a single use, i e, cultivation of different crops for selfconsumption, whereby land becomes a lifeline never to be parted with. This system would broadly correspond to traditional rural economies with a predominance of production for self-consumption. Further, rural economy in India can have a third form of organisation, where production can be for the market and land has multiple uses, leading to higher value; land thus becomes a commodity in the market. These differences suggest that the country or even individual states have two or more different economic systems with their own organisation of production, level of knowledge, concept of property and lifestyles. They can be seen in qualitatively different tribal, settled agriculture, and industry areas with their own distinct identities.

    In the Bill, the land is treated as the most important asset, the compensation being related to the value of land, which in turn is related to market cost. The above discussion illustrates how the ownership of land as a basis for assessing livelihoods, and thereby relating signifi cant compensation components to this parameter can have differential effects on people depending on the economic system they belong to – not all of them having the desired effects. Levelling all these qualitatively different systems and formulating a single law, taking into account only the quantitative rural-urban differences as applicable throughout the country may destabilise the economy as a whole, leading to social crises, making the affected people lose more heavily.

    Women and the Family

    The notion of the family is in the forefront while calculating the compensation and other benefits, but gradually it becomes individual-centric – an adult male is pushed to the front as the head of the family. As per the Bill, the compensation and rehabilitation and resettlement assistance is to be deposited in the bank account of the male, an account newly created for this purpose. The Bill says, “the collector having determined the market value of the land to be acquired, shall calculate the total amount of compensation to be paid to the landowner by including all assets attached to the land”. The award for the family includes the rehabilitation and resettlement amount payable, a house site and land to be allotted, a one-time subsistence allowance, transportation allowance, mandatory employment, annuity and other entitlements, many of them in the form of cash.

    A positive aspect is the proposal that “the land or house allotted may be in the

    Economic & Political Weekly

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    joint names of wife and husband of the affected family”. However, it says “may” and not “must”, thus leaving it to the official concerned. Though the Bill starts initially with the “affected family”, it unwittingly identifies an “individual” male member in the family as the representative to receive all the benefi ts. It thereby fails to recognise women as labouring productive individuals in their own right.

    Following from the description in the earlier sub-section, women have different roles and positions in the social systems corresponding to the different economic systems – tribal, settled agriculture and modern market oriented/industrial systems. The tribal economy is a naturebased one, a woman-centric economy in which women occupy the centre stage. They are involved in decisions related to buying and selling, cleaning and maintenance of the house and surroundings, bearing and rearing the children, performing a variety of domestic and outdoor activities for the sustenance of the family and the collective society. Women here are involved in all the economic activities in the system such as participating in agriculture-related activities, in house construction, and collecting forest produce both for self-consumption and for exchange in the local markets. In such a society, patriarchy nominally exists and operates at a minimum level, with weak rules, regulations and customs on the family front, giving enough room for women to operate independently in the society. The family instead of being a hierarchical collective of individuals becomes a loosely knit unit of two independent individuals.

    If land acquisition takes place in such a system, even for the public purpose of industrialisation, the most affected will be the women in that society. In this process, women lose all the skills, activities and the knowledge associated with those activities after displacement. They are bereft of any skills suitable to the new environment of settlement. In the process, they lose their economic independence and are forced to be housebound. The male member of the family occupies centre stage and the state, showers all benefits such as the title of the house and land, if any, money awarded under various heads, travel and maintenance allowance, annuity, solatium amount and also a job in case of displacement through companies, on him as his right. Officially, the male becomes the owner of all economic transactions and slowly, the family acquires its own contours, not only establishing but strengthening patriarchy. Our fi eld study of displaced families in the Upper Indravati project in Orissa showed this aspect clearly. The women were pushed back into their houses, became dependent on men and in the course of time, patriarchy got strengthened.

    Monetising Compensation

    According to the Bill, it is only in the dam projects that land lost by the displaced family is compensated in terms of land. In the rest of the projects, the lands lost by the family and most of the facilities assured by the rehabilitation and resettlement policy are converted, based on the market prices into cash. This cash will be deposited in the bank account of the male, viewed as the head of the household. This method may work to the satisfaction of both the sellers and the buyers in case the markets are functioning well and the necessary corrections can take place through adjustments in prices as happened in Noida. However, in tribal areas where markets are nonexistent and the notion, knowledge and functioning of money is rudimentary, if it exists at all, compensation in cash form can lead to disaster. Since the tribal culture is a community-based culture with only a short-term vision of the future, they tend to spend all the compensation and other money in

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    arranging community drinking and dinner feasts. They cannot buy the same amount of land as they tilled earlier since land markets are nebulous and land prices erratically zoom even with the announcement of a project by a “company”. In the process, they are rendered worse-off when compared to the pre-intervention period.

    Suggestions for Better ‘Inclusion’

    Underlying the entire need for land acquisition and the introduction of a bill to facilitate land acquisition for more rapid economic growth, while protecting the interests of those whose lands are acquired is the notion that high investments and the resultant increase in economic activity are a desirable end in itself. Any distortions generated by the process of growth can be addressed through other policy interventions to support “inclusive growth”. The Bill therefore talks about the need to develop stakeholders from the affected families. This whole approach however does not ask what these affected families want. It does not seek to identify a path forward starting from these families and their economic activities and skills. The women in the tribal systems, due to their multiple objectives, have a special role in the family as well as their society. Any approach which yields “sustainable inclusion” of these agents should be based on locally available resources, their skill sets, their capacities and expertise, and their needs. Identifi cation of projects for these areas therefore needs to adopt a “people to company” approach rather than a “company to people” approach.

    The Bill and the underlying approach towards “inclusive growth”, however, do not work on the same premise. It wants to accelerate the growth process through industrialisation and also simultaneously protect the interests of the affected families in terms of providing resources for establishing a new livelihood regime. In the need to attract investment, this approach gives primacy to the investor over the existing users of the resource called land, i e, it adopts a “company to people” approach. The company in essence determines its needs and the affected people are sought to be accommodated or eased out with some protection. As discussed, the extent of protection offered by the Bill can be significantly different for different economic systems, especially given the lack of adequate monetisation in at least some of these systems. Therefore, if its professed intent to provide some assurance of minimum protection to the livelihoods of the affected families is to be achieved, the Bill needs to recognise the heterogeneity in economic systems and its consequent effects on the individuals in the system. The following suggestions should be considered:

  • (1) The Bill should not restrict itself to the quantitative rural-urban division, but take into account the different organisations of production to formulate a land acquisition policy to suit them accordingly.
  • (a) Policies for tribal areas need to be distinctly different from those in nontribal areas. While cash for land may work in monetised systems, for tribal systems providing land for cultivation and not cash is important.
  • (b) For rehabilitation and resettlement, providing cash once again would be unsuitable – there must be mechanisms within the Bill for actual resettlement.
  • (2) Since the cohesion and sustainability of a family can be different in different economic systems, the Bill should work with individuals rather than families when determining compensation for loss of livelihood.
  • (c) All the individuals of the affected families, both male and female, who are willing and capable to perform productive activities must be treated as surplus generating people who must be given employment. In the case of providing rehabilitation and resettlement benefits, women must be recognised and accepted as the head of the household to receive various benefits since they bear all the responsibility for survival of the family.
  • In order to accelerate the process of industrialisation, as suggested by the state machinery, developmental programmes with an integrated approach should be considered for violence-ridden tribal areas. Understanding that people’s needs correspond to their living natural environment and the locally available resources, suitable projects are to be chosen by the people themselves to satisfy their needs and improve upon them, own these projects, and become part of them and make them successful. The projects should be such that the present need-based skills, capacity and expertise of the local people and the future demands of the evolving modern system should be in tandem with each other to generate development in a holistic sense. If such programmes are not considered, especially for tribal areas, the already disturbed tribal economy becomes further unstable. This, in turn, creates more and more obstacles to the process of industrialisation by generating a “violence-counter violence” cycle and in the process derails the much publicised notion of growth through industrialisation.

    To conclude, the Bill is a step forward as it finally attempts to address the different concerns of affected families in the process of initiating new projects in the country. Accelerating the process of growth through industrialisation and facilitating the affected persons to become parties in this process are articulated as the twin objectives of the Bill. The expectation behind this planned action is that industrialisationcentred development leads to displacement and there is a need to reintegrate the displaced people into development again. However, the Bill has bulldozed all inherent heterogeneity to arrive at an easy solution. It is now increasingly recognised that while there can be universal overall principles of inducing growth, in practice these principles need to be packaged in forms suitable for a particular reality. The package must be devised by the people and for the people. The report of the Steering Committee Rapid Poverty Reduction and Local Area Development, for the Eleventh Five-Year Plan, for instance, does recognise that there is a need for localised and customised solutions. It even proposes specifi c programmes for tribal areas. This note attempts to highlight one method by which customisation of the programme can be attempted.

    Economic & Political Weekly

    may 19, 2012 vol xlvii no 20

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