Fri, Dec 28, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Indian state to return land to farmers

Thomson Reuters Foundation, MUMBAI, India

Farmers in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh are getting back land because industry had not put it to use after it was taken from them more than a decade ago by the Indian government, a rare move in a country riven by conflict over land.

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel of the Congress Party, which won a state election earlier this month with pledges to honor land rights, said he has asked officials to return about 2,000 hectares in Bastar District.

“The process of returning the land will start soon,” Baghel said in a statement earlier this week, without giving details.

Return of land is rare in India, where conflicts have risen as highways and factories are built in one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.

About 660 disputes over land have stalled hundreds of projects and forced millions of people from their farms across India, according to research organization Land Conflict Watch.

Chhattisgarh, under the earlier Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, in 2005 agreed to allocate land for a Tata Steel factory in Bastar. Farmers protested giving up their land.

Tata Steel, among the world’s top producers, pulled out of the project in 2016, citing delays.

Authorities said that the land would go into a land bank for other developments to generate jobs in one of India’s poorest states.

“The farmers who lost their land have suffered for years and struggled to make a living,” said Kishore Narayan, a lawyer with advocacy Human Rights Law Network in Chhattisgarh.

“We hope that the state will look into all cases of lands lying idle and return them,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

India has enacted numerous laws to protect the rights of farmers.

A 2013 federal land acquisition law, passed by the Congress government, made consent of farmers mandatory, and introduced adequate compensation and resettlement for those affected.

Any unutilized land is to be returned to owners after five years, or go into the state land bank.

In 2016, the Indian Supreme Court ordered West Bengal State to return land that had been acquired for a Tata Motors factory, but was not used, after a decade-long fight by farmers.

Last year, South Korean steelmaker POSCO asked Odisha State to take back land allotted to it for a long-delayed steel project and return it to villagers, although authorities said the land would revert to the state.

Also last year, the court heard a petition by an advocacy group that said about 80 percent of land acquired for large industrial zones was lying idle.

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