India Uncut

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Friday, December 08, 2006

A classic example of government dacoity


You know what eminent domain is, I'm guessing. It's when the government takes away private property without getting the consent of the owner. Say the government wants to build a road or a railroad or suchlike, and they need to get a certain amount of land for this purpose, but the owners don't want to sell. Well, the government can just seize the land, at a compensation that it decides.

Eminent domain is often justified on the grounds that it is necessary for the "common good," a phrase I am inherently suspicious of. As I mentioned here, the primary reason I am against the Narmada Valley project is that thousands of poor farmers were robbed of their property, forced to leave their land regardless of whether they wanted to sell or not. (In my view, if you don't not want to sell your property, and are forced to sell it, that's equivalent to theft. Thus, even if relief and rehabilitation had been carried out well in the case of the Narmada Valley farmers, which happens not to be the case, I'd still contend that they've been robbed.)

And it is invariably the poor who suffer, for they don't have powerful interest groups to speak for them, and the media doesn't give a shit. Now, what is happening in Singur (see sidebar of the linked page) is even more of a scandal because the poor farmers who are being forced to give up their land are having to do so not for a public project, like a road or a dam or suchlike, but for a private one. The government is effectively taking away land from poor farmers, and handing it over to a private company -- in this case, Tata Motors.

And here's the irony: the Left Front, which claims to speak on behalf of the poor, has actually expressed "support for the State's plans." Indeed, the party which rules the state is a Left party. I suspect the politicians opposing the dacoity are doing so out of political opportunism and not principle, and what enrages me is that there is hardly any public outcry over this blatant theft, as there was in the US after Kelo. This is large-scale daylight robbery, and we just don't care.

PS. Also notice the irony that it is illegal in India to sell agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes, another example of how the state dictates what citizens can do with their property. (This is one reason, in fact, why 60% of our population remains dependent on agriculture.) So while the farmer can't sell his own land to someone who wants to build a factory, the government can take it away from him and give it to someone for that purpose. Makes any sense to you?

PPS. I'm looking for earlier examples of eminent domain being used in India to benefit private parties. I'd be grateful if any lawyers or historians who might be able to cite such examples would email me. Thanks.
amit varma, 2:54 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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