Indian authorities taking land from farmers

Rapid economic growth is driving up demand for real estate in India. New research reveals the techniques Indian authorities are using to transfer land from poor farmers to rich investors.

Gravemaskin i indisk landskap

Land dispossession: Kenneth Bo Nielsen has researched the increased demand on the property market in India. Illustration photo: Colourbox/f9photos

Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, India was one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Growth has been driven by large investments, rising consumer spending and increased exports. Economic growth always leads to increased demand on the property market. Property developers need land to build homes, factories, commercial buildings, etc. The demand for land for commercial development is currently higher than the Indian authorities have been able to meet.

Associate professor at the Department of Social Anthropology and India expert Kenneth Bo Nielsen recently published an article in the prestigious Journal of Peasant Studies, analysing the shortage of land in rural areas in India. Together with Solano da Silva and Heather P. Bedi, Nielsen investigates the mechanisms the Indian government is using to make new land areas available on the property investment market.

“In the past few years, we have seen some quite drastic attempts to throw ordinary people off the land they farm and live on – at the national level and all the way down to the individual city councils,” says Nielsen.

Using the law to take land by force has become the norm, explains the anthropologist, but it comes at a high political price.

“There have been brutal violent protests among farmers and locals in some places. There have even been cases of people being shot or imprisoned, and embroiled in political processes that they can’t get out of,” he adds.

Cash Under the Table

However, it has become increasingly difficult for the Indian government to use this method. In the article, the researchers investigate other, more subtle land-grabbing mechanisms.

“For example, we have looked at so-called planning processes, whereby the authorities reclassify land into new zoning categories,” says Nielsen.

He outlines an example based on his own research in the state of Goa.

Portrett av Kenneth Bo Nielsen
Kenneth Bo Nielsen: “Access to and use of land represent an unparalleled sphere of power”.

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