ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Of Land and Livelihoods

The new LARR Act is not a permanent solution to the basic problem – the commodifi cation of land.

It has taken 66 years after Independence and many heroic struggles of the victims of capitalist development for the Land Acquisition Act (LAA) of 1894 to be repealed, pending notification of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (the LARR Act) in the Gazette of India on 1 January 2014. The LARR Act was passed by Parliament in the monsoon session in September 2013, received the president’s assent soon thereafter, and has just completed the three-month period within which it must be notified. But does this mark the end of the colonial legacy as far as land acquisition under the principles of “eminent domain” and “public purpose” is concerned? What are the rights that the people have won as a result of their long and bitter struggles over land and livelihoods, from the times of the Hirakud Dam project in the 1950s to those of the POSCO steel project in the first decade of the 21st century? What still remains to be won in the coming post-LARR struggles over land in the years to come?

What would potentially bring the highest rate of return on capital is the underlying basis for dispossession of people from their lands, and also the lands required by the State to fulfil its role as the instrument of the dominant classes. With the ascendency of capital, land had to be liberated from the various obstructions to its most profitable use. So customary rights had to be extinguished, for property was henceforth only to be “private”, and this meant that other individuals and the community were to be excluded. The LAA of 1894 was the culmination of a series of laws related to land acquisition from 1824 onwards, the year 1863 making the first incorporation of the provision for government to acquire land on behalf of the private sector, ostensibly for “public purpose”, the latter, itself quite all encompassing. Continued in independent India under Article 372 of the Constitution, which smoothed the incorporation of colonial era laws, the Act was amended in 1962 to give greater powers to the State to characterise a whole range of infrastructural and industrial projects as serving the “public purpose”, and in 1984 to make it even easier to acquire land for private companies. Any activity of the State was now deemed to serve the “public purpose”, as also almost any activity of private companies.

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