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Land Acquisition, Eminent Domain and the 2011 Bill

The displaced and their advocates
have been campaigning for a
law that will limit the coercive
power of the State in taking
over land. The Land Acquisition
Rehabilitation and Resettlement
Bill 2011 adopts some of the
language and concerns from
the sites of conflict. But by
beginning with the premise that
acquisition is inevitable and that
industrialisation, urbanisation
and infrastructure will have
lexical priority, the LARR Bill 2011
may have gained few friends
among those whom involuntary
acquisition has displaced, and
those for whom rehabilitation has
been about promises that have
seldom been kept.

In its 117 years of existence, the Land
Acquisition Act 1894 (LAA 1894) has
influenced the expansion of the power
of the State to acquire and take over land.
It has helped institutionalise involuntary
acquisition. Premised on the doctrine of
eminent domain, it presumes a priority to
the requirements of the State which, by
definition, is for the general good of the
public, over the interests of landowners
and users. The doctrine of eminent
domain
invests power in the state to
acquire
private land for public purpose on
payment of compensation.
The language of “public purpose” has
lent a touch of public morality to involuntary
acquisition and dispossession
which, especially since the 1980s has
been facing serious challenge. Mass displacement
posed an early threat to the
legitimacy
of the project of development.
This phenomenon defied the logic of eminent
domain in demonstrating that the
link between “public purpose” and acquisition
was incapable of acknowledging the
thousands, and hundreds of thousands,
who would stand to lose their livelihood,
security, support structures when land was
acquired and whole communities uprooted.
The LAA, 1894 was trained to acknowledge
a “person interested” in the land who
could, therefore, become a “claimant”.
Even this limited right did not vest in the
wider multitude
who would face the consequent
forcible eviction.

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Les opinions exprimées et les arguments avancés dans cet article demeurent l'entière responsabilité de l'auteur-e et ne reflètent pas nécessairement ceux du CETRI.