‘People can’t be left at the mercy of private industry’

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Harsh Mander
Harsh Mander
Photo: Vijay Pandey

You say any acquisition with a private interest should be excluded from the government domain. How is that feasible?
That’s my strong conviction but there is no agreement within the working group. The government’s view is that 70 percent should be acquired by private players and 30 percent by the government. My position is none of the land should be acquired for any private purpose. I feel the notion of public purpose is clear. Land is acquired for public good, not for private profit. The government cannot become an agent for compulsorily taking away land from farmers for the sake of private industry. If private companies want, let them make the farmers partners in their profit and buy their land by paying a good and satisfactory price for it. The other side says we have been living in times when there is a belief that large private industry working for profit is a public good because it creates wealth and jobs.

Are you opposed to all forms of land acquisition for private businesses?
For-profit organisations should engage in a for-profit relationship with the people. It has to be the voluntary choice of the people. There is a danger of private industry exploiting the farmers but that requires regulation, not government compulsorily taking away land for private players.

So if the Railways want to acquire land for a coach factory, you have no issues?
I have no issues but due process should be followed. The whole process of public purpose is not to just say it is a public purpose but also to justify and explain the decision to take away land. Even if it is for public good, the people should have a right to challenge the decision.

Who should oversee rehabilitation?
The duty has to be of the state government as people can’t be left at the mercy of private industry. But there must be a clear obligation on the part of private industry like creation of employment.

You say that it is the duty of the state government to prevent exploitation by private companies but when it comes to social impact assessment there is a need for a National Commission for Land Acquisition, Relief and Rehabilitation. What is the guarantee that this will work?
You cannot have an evaluation done by the agency that has a vested interest in the outcome. If a state government wants to acquire land then it can’t appoint an assessment team as well. We need to have an agency that is independent. The national commission will have a number of independent experts to ensure that the interests of the poor are taken care of.

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