India's largest state unveils pro-farmer land bill

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 03, 2011 2:08 AM
India's largest state unveils pro-farmer land bill

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The chief minister of India's most populous state has unveiled a new land acquisition policy, local media reported on Friday, making it easier and more lucrative for farmers to sell land in the face of growing anger over land acquisition for industry.

Mayawati, chief minister of India's northern Uttar Pradesh state, says the policy ensures a seller's market for farmers, in an attempt to remove a nationwide roadblock for infrastructure and development in Asia's third-largest economy.

"Under the new policy, the state government would only be involved in notifying and earmarking the boundary of the land. But the price of the land and other modalities would be decided by the buyers and the sellers," Mayawati told reporters.

Land for industry has become a major issue in one of the world's fastest growing economies as investors demand more highways and land for factories in the face of opposition from millions of farmers who have held land for generations.

A farmers' protest against land purchases for a $2 billion highway in the state attracted widespread media attention in May, and gave the Congress party a platform to present itself as the pro-poor party against Mayawati's acquisition policies ahead of state elections in 2012.

The state government's role as a middleman in the sale is removed and farmers are entitled to market rates for their land under Mayawati's policy. She says the policy was formulated after meeting with hundreds of farmers and has the support of 70 percent of them.

Previously, many state governments ran into massive protests after they offered below-market rates for land to hand over to industry. In 2008, farmers in Singur in the state of West Bengal blocked Tata Motors from building a factory there to make its ultra-low-cost Nano car.

Mayawati's policy mimics a promised bill from the Congress-led coalition for the July session of parliament, proposed to regain the initiative after months of corruption scandals and win over farmers and big business.

Rahul Gandhi, Congress scion and son of party president Sonia Gandhi, was arrested after joining farmers who engaged in violent protests along the route of a proposed highway that runs through Uttar Pradesh, in an attempt to position himself as the alternative to Mayawati at the ballot box next year.

"We will force the center to adopt the same land acquisition policy, which is the best in the country," Mayawati told a news conference in state capital, Lucknow, on Wednesday.

(Writing by Henry Foy; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Sugita Katyal)