Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Indian Land Grab

The top five per cent of households in India possess 38 per cent of total assets
The bottom 60 per cent own a mere 13 per cent.

Nearly half its population subsists on less than US$2 a day and is living in extreme poverty.

Delhi slum dweller Ganga Devi said: "Development is not happening for us. We are only becoming poorer...The rich only think of their progress while we are becoming poorer every day."

During last year's Commonwealth Games, many commentators said India’s priorities were misplaced. Why host a major sporting event when a staggering number of the country’s population continues to live in poverty, children go hungry and people die of preventable diseases? Instead money poured into stadiums, tracks and courts. A year later India hosted Formula One Grand Prix. The cheapest ticket for the Indian Grand Prix was 2,500 rupees ($50) for the euphemistically named "picnic areas". The most expensive passes in the general seating area is Rs 35,000, approximately 1,000 times the daily wage.

In the case of the F1 track and the associated sports facility the state government acquired 2,500 acres of land at prices as low as 450 rupees to 850 rupees per square meter, which was later sold to private developers at 4,500 rupees to 5,500 rupees per square meter. Developers like Jaypee Group are now selling the same land at 18,000 rupees to 20,000 rupees per square meter.

Two recent documents indicated that corporate greed was robbing Indians of land and mineral wealth.

The UN Human Development Report said the governments in India, China and Saudi Arabia has handed over 45 million hectares of land to private, public-private joint ventures, usually from capital-rich countries, between 2008 and 2010. A World Bank report was quoted to say that expected benefits from this land transfer have not been achieved. Other studies quoted by the UN report speak private highhandedness resulting in human right violations, forcibly displacement of local population and restricted access to natural resources. In India, most of this has happened in the mineral rich land of poor tribal people of Central India. A Centre for Science and Environment report found that even though one lakh hectares of forestland was diverted for mining companies the total employment of locals in the sector declined by 27 percent since 1991.

Here is state of affairs in some of the best mining districts in India. Bellary, in news for rampant illegal mining of iron ore by Reddy brothers for export, has third poorest Human Development Index (HDI) in Karnataka. Koraput, in Orissa, which produces 40 % of India’s bauxite have 78 % population living below poverty line. Bhilwara, which produces India’s 81 % zinc, is among lowest HDI districts in Rajasthan.

The companies operating in these environmentally hazardous districts are not at all poor. The profit after tax of six public sector companies increased to 33 % of gross sales in 2009-10, a rise of about three percent from the pervious year.

“Hurt most (from the land grab) were smallholders, indigenous people and women, who often lack formal title to lands on which they live and farm,”
the UN report said.

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