The Only Way Out Of Singur Is To Restore the Right To Property

In Uncategorized on October 4, 2008 at 9:37 am

Today’s newspaper headlines proclaim that the Tata’s have finally pulled the Nano factory out of West Bengal ending several months of conflict pitting the state government (which acquired land for the factory under eminent domain) against a populist politician who lead an agitation on behalf of  farmers deprived of their land.

Much has been written in the popular media and blow-by-blow events are too well known to need recounting.  It needs “unpopular”, scarcely read media such as this blog to write about the reason behind this situation in which either outcome could only represent a loss for India.

Eminent domain is a doctrine that allows governments to appropriate private property on the claim that they can better decide the purpose to which the property can be put.  The nominal reason given has always been that the property is acquired for the public good.  However, in practice, the reason has often been to hand the land over to some private party on whom the State wishes to bestow a favour – of course, for the common good.  In reality, the State (or it’s current rulers) hope to gain in the form of increased taxes being generated from the new uses of the property or direct monetary gains by the rulersin the form of bribes.  Add to this the absence of constitutionally guaranteed property rights and you have the India of the 21st century.

The original Constitution of India recognized property rights under Article 19 (subclause f) which guaranteed to all citizens the right to acquire, hold and dispose of property.  The evil twin of Article 19 was Article 31.  Article 31 abrogated to the state the right to deprive citizens of their property by authority of the law.  Meaning the government could take over your land and that was your private tragedy.

Like always in a socialist system, Article 31, won and the right to property ceased to be a fundamental right in 1978 opening the way to eminent domain in some cases without citizens having recourse to the courts (Article 300-A which replaced Article 31.)

Add to this situation, more socialism in the form of land use acts and land reform acts and zoning and it becomes nearly impossible for a private party to acquire enough land to create a large industrial complex.  Leading to further land appropriations and deadlocks such as Singur.

The only way out of this imbrolio is to drop entirely the doctrine of Eminent Domain and reinstate the Right to Property as a Fundamental Right which cannot be violated even by the State.  The Right to Property needs to be realized as an absolute right leading to the removal of all laws pertaining to land use or zoning.  This time around, Article 19 must be restored without it’s evil twins, Article 31 and 300-A.

This is the only basis on which conflicts such as those which have embroiled Singur can be avoided in the future.

In the meantime, India will continue to burn in the conflict between agriculture and industry.

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