Print edition : August 18, 2017

Jharkhand’s “Global Investment Summit” in Ranchi in February. From left: Union Ministers Smriti Irani and Arun Jaitley, the industrialists Ratan Tata, Kumar Mangalam Birla and Naveen Jindal; Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das; BJP leader Nitin Gadkari; and cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Photo: PTI

IN September 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the “Make in India” campaign and set in motion several changes in government policy at the Centre and in States aiming to increase the ease of doing business. As part of this effort, the Department of Industrial Policy and Planning (DIPP) began formulating pointwise action plans with specific deadlines given to States and Union government departments to implement administrative measures to improve the business environment.

The first such plan was a 98-point action plan prepared for States by the DIPP at a workshop organised in December 2014. Among the recommendations concerning land given in this action plan document is the following: “Develop land bank for ready availability of land for industry.” The DIPP asked all States to get this land bank ready by June 2015. In the last week of December, Raghubar Das took over as Chief Minister of Jharkhand, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the All Jharkhand Students’ Union forming a coalition government.

For most of 2015, despite the deadline, the State was unable to set up an online land bank. An assessment of the State’s record in implementing business reforms prepared by the DIPP in September 2015 stated that availability of land for investors was an area that Jharkhand needed to improve upon.

The same month, another action plan, this time a 340-point “Business Reform Action Plan”, was prepared by the DIPP. It asked the States to implement four things to ensure land availability for private investors: a) make information on land banks for industrial use available online, b) earmark industrial land parcels with specific criteria (such as type of industries, pollution levels, and so on) for industries that can be set up on such land, c) design and implement a geographic information system (GIS) providing details about the land earmarked for industrial use, and d) ensure that the GIS provides details about available infrastructure such as roads and sources of water.

The pressure from the Centre worked. On January 5, 2016, the Chief Minister announced the setting up of an online and real-time land bank for investors. “Make available land for companies who have been awarded coal blocks from the land bank and also earmark land for food-processing parks soon” was the initial direction of the Chief Minister to his officials. One of those officials, Revenue Secretary K.K. Son, shared the following details about the land bank: “In the State, there are 21,01,471.99 acres of land available. This includes Gairmajrua Khas, Gairmajrua Aam, Gairmajrua Jungal-Jhari and lands unutilised by government departments. For the convenience of investors, land availability has been divided into multiple categories: 1 to 50 acres; 50 to 100 acres; and there are multiple links for 100 and above acres.”

To an outsider unfamiliar with the complexities of land issues in Jharkhand, the sheer variety of types of land available in the State in terms of size and official description might appear impressive and full of possibilities for business. Indeed, the State government’s publicity machinery and the Centre’s eagerness to do away with processes of land acquisition or introduce new ones give that kind of an impression. But a close scrutiny reveals that the government’s decision to offer Gairmajrua, or GM lands, as they are alternatively called in official records, in the land bank for investors to consider setting up projects may have put many vulnerable individuals and community land owners at risk of forced displacement.

Gairmajrua lands are peculiar to this part of the country, especially Jharkhand. According to a State government-sponsored study of land governance in the State prepared in October 2014 by the Ranchi-based National Institute of Study and Research in Law, the state of Gairmajrua lands in Jharkhand is poor. It observes:

“[Gairmajrua Aam lands are] under the control of State government on which every common people [ sic] has rights. However, in reality much of the pieces of this land have been encroached upon by influential persons. So the entries in land records may not reflect the actual status of possession.” The observation on Gairmajrua Khas lands was: “Earlier Gairmajrua Khas Land was recorded in the name of local zamindar [landlord] and zamindar had the power to settle individuals on these lands through registered deeds and in many cases through sadda hukumnama [unregistered deeds]. After abolition of zamindari, these lands are vested in State government and this type of land can be settled with raiyats, that is, individual settlers, through lease or regular settlement or patta to persons belonging to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and backward classes. In the government record lakhs of acres of Gairmajrua Khas land are available but in reality Gairmajrua Khas have been distributed by the previous landlords (zamindars).”

When a senior official from Jharkhand’s Revenue and Land Reforms Department was asked about the vulnerability of owners of Gairmajrua lands on account of this decision about the land bank, he said: “Only land belonging to the government was put up for the consideration of investors and no private land owners are affected.” A cursory glance at the land bank shows that land offered to investors is of the four types mentioned by the Revenue Secretary during the launch of the online portal. Two of these are Gairmajrua-type lands. In Godda district, activists claim many small landowners from the oppressed castes, who have been paying taxes for decades and using Gairmajrua lands, have received notices of eviction.

Independent observers warn that the manner in which the land bank has been created in Jharkhand is creating fresh problems of forcible displacement. Dr Prabhat Singh, an associate professor in the Anthropology Department of Ranchi University, told Frontline: “The government is showing raiyati land as Gairmajrua land. This is unjust towards the raiyats who have been paying taxes to the government on the lands they have been using for decades. They are not encroachers. Setting up a new project only means displacing the existing landowner from the Gairmajrua land despite his livelihood being dependent, in a large number of cases, upon it.”

Prabhat Singh also found problematic the identification of Gairmajrua Aam land as government land up for grabs in the land bank for private investors: “All common lands belong to the community, not the government. Including such land in the land bank for industry means giving away lakes, grazing lands for animals, temples and similar public places to private companies.”

Meanwhile, the campaign to realise the investment potential of private capital goes on relentlessly. After the State’s maiden “Global Investment Summit”, Raghubar Das announced that his government was “committed to implementing 172 out of 201 MoUs signed with investors on the ground in the next one year”.

Akshay Deshmane

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