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Saturday, 19 April 2008

Slums and the Web of Development - 2

Slums, cities and the web of development - 2

by Remigius de Souza

Draconian law: Land Acquisition Act (1894)

Under this draconian law – the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 – made by the British several million people have been displaced and marginalised. After Independence this act has been revised or modified less number of time than the Constitution of India: What makes it so powerful? Is it because of JUSTICE or is it a weapon for the present rulers or the ruling minority?

Double standards by the Rulers

Under certain town planning acts the land holdings are reconstituted within city limits, for example by declaring town-planning schemes. Twenty-five years ago Vadodara City took care of all, particularly the small landholders that they do not loose their land while acquiring land for public and social services for paltry sum of compensation. However this facility of reconstitution of land at regional level is not applied while acquiring land for various private or public projects. The rulers – legislators, administration, policymakers, and planners obviously follow double standards while dealing with the land in urban areas and the land in rural areas.

Why then it should not be possible to reconstitute the land holdings at the regional level while acquiring land for the development projects from where the people are displaced, or where the land is acquired by paying cash compensations, and perhaps a promise of jobs in future, while creating the “ghettos of development” in the rural areas? What is the value of cash compensation in the spiralling inflation and falling rupee value? Instead the local people affected by the development projects are treated as second-class citizens. Is the administrative machinery ready and prepared to work hard for this job?

What is the basis of cash compensation for the acquired land? Is it the current land price in the locality? Is it based on the comparison with land value in the cities and metropolitan cities? The cities depend on the resources of the regions – at times from remote and distant areas for their sustenance. Is the compensation based on the future inflated land value when the project becomes operative? Is it based on the disparity of living standards of the urban elite and rural poor?

Disparity of living standards and consumption

Perhaps the disparity is the criteria in the literacy level and consumption level of both — those who acquire the land with the help of instrument of law and those from whom the land is taken — is a measure of cash compensation?

Or is it based on the justice that the people that depended on the very land for five thousand, or more, years, generation after generation, and will be deprived of the very resource – the land – for the posterity?

Until now they had depended on the soil for their sustenance while feudal lords, kings and rulers – Ashoka or Aurangzeb – came and vanished. In what way the life of the people around the “Ghettos of Development” in the name of common good, has improved in the areas of education and schooling, job and vocations, economic conditions, and services – post, transport, water supply, health…?

Is it possible to remove slums from the cities and towns in India, to some extent? Yes, if the people are given a fair deal in the development projects, out side of urban area, in the cases of public and private sector projects, including the areas brought under urbanization such as New Bombay built by CIDCO (City and Industrial Development Corporation) in Maharashtra State.

Take one of many aspects – the compensation for acquired land particularly in the rural area. It is not only the owners of the land acquired but also entire affected population of village/s or region must be entitled to receive compensation.

Land Acquisition, Compensation and Rehabilitation

Customarily the compensation and rehabilitation is decided on the basis of degree of consumption and access and power to devour the resources in comparison with urban elite and not on the basis of sustenance. The direct benefit due to the acquisition for development must reach to the people on equitable basis. As is it is questionable whether the benefits of direct taxes reach them.

The nature and value of compensation and rehabilitation should be worked on the basis of and in the proportion of the total cost of the project, whether the land is acquired for a public or private project. The total cost should include:

1. The cost of planning, administration, acquisition and arbitration processes from inception to completion stage: e.g. salaries, stationary, establishment, transport, consultancy, services such as legal, technical, management, planning etc.

2. The investment incurred in the development, construction and establishment of infrastructure:

A. civil works, road, rail, buildings, machinery etc, and

B. Services.

3. Annual compensation in the proportion of annual expenditure, but not of profit (loss) irrespective of subsidies and tax concessions, during the years of operations / life of a project.

The basis for rehabilitation should be to provide land for farming, housing, local institutions such as schools, colleges, training institutions for agro-industries, banking, public transport, and health care faculties. Jus as minimum shelter of 21 sq. m. is recommended / given to a slum dweller in cities. In the same manner a landless labourer in rural areas should be rehabilitated with one acre/hectare of land. All the land should be taken from reconstitution of the entire land holding of the region.

This formula demands corrective measures in the existing structure of laws and applications. But it also demands courage, integrity and transparency on the part of the society.

If such an application is brought into force, with effect from, say, 26-1-1952, Republic Day of India, there shall be massive exodus from the cities to rural areas. PEOPLE shall return to their homesteads that are rotting in the slums, if such an action takes place.

The culture and tradition of the country is essentially agrarian. The resources required for industrialization shall not last forever; neither the borrowed know-how nor imported clever ideas of development may work forever.

Do sciences and/ or applied sciences, have answers to these problems? Partially, perhaps! When a science looses its dimension of ‘people’ it becomes a ‘ghetto of information’ and eventually gets buried. Technology does not build the pyramids any more; its form has changed but the context continues. When centralised power inflates and looses its vision of eternity, it disintegrates.

The Buddha, Jesus, Sena Nhavi, Ravidas, Kabir, Chokhamela, Sri Basaveshwara, Akka Mahadevi and many others born in different times, speak the language of people rather than the monopolised language of the elite, such as Sanskrit, Hebrew, now English. Their words are not drowned in the river of time even in the absence of media agencies and institutional or state support.

To look for the answers to the contemporary problems the real place is the people and not the polytechnics or parliaments or planning agencies or theories. Perhaps it is now time for billion incarnations. The first task is to restore human dignity: Dignity to all living beings: Dignity to Life.

[This is revised and edited version and Second and last part of the article published in the Journal of Indian Institute of Architects, Dec.1996, p23-25]

NOTE: The Land Acquisition Act, 1894 is presently under revision in the Parliament of India. The Parliament had invited suggestion from the citizens by its advertisement sometime ago. After reading the text of the Bill I realised that the Government of India did not take the notice of this article published in 1996 in a journal of the professional body.

I shall post my comments on the Bill in near future.
Remigius de Souza

© Remigius de Souza., all rights reserved.

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