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Report: Conflicts Over Land in India Stall Projects Worth Billions of Dollars

 FILE - A laborer stacks bricks on his head at the construction site of a residential complex in Kolkata.
FILE - A laborer stacks bricks on his head at the construction site of a residential complex in Kolkata.

Conflicts related to land and resources are the main reason behind stalled industrial and development projects in India, affecting millions of people and putting billions of dollars of investment and the economy's health at risk, two reports said.

An analysis of 289 ongoing cases, which make up about 40 percent of major land conflicts, found they affected 3.1 million people and more than 12 trillion rupees ($178 billion), a report by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai said.

Land is increasingly sought in India for industrial use and development projects, as one of the world's fastest growing major economies expands.

While legislation such as a 2006 forest rights law and a 1996 act on tribal areas aims to protect the rights of farmers and indigenous communities over their lands, the laws are usually diluted and poorly implemented, activists say.

"The only way to ensure India's continued development will be to effectively implement the laws and remove the anomalies in property-rights regimes," said Geetanjoy Sahu, a professor at TISS and one of the report's authors.

Many cases end up in court. Matters related to land and property make up about two-thirds of all civil cases in India, according to a recent study by Bengaluru-based legal advocacy group Daksh.

Competing claims

The study by TISS found that most conflicts relate to infrastructure and industrial projects, with infrastructure accounting for almost half the disputes.

More than 40 percent of all land-related conflicts involve forest lands, with acquisitions by the government being the major cause of conflict in 60 percent of all reported cases.

Earlier this year, India's Supreme Court said land acquired by West Bengal state for a Tata Motors factory must be returned to farmers, ending a decade-long battle.

There have been violent clashes in the eastern state of Jharkhand in recent months over land acquisitions and proposed changes to land laws in the state.

"Without clarity on land and forest rights, competing claims between communities and the government will continue to fuel conflict and put India's socioeconomic future at risk," said the TISS study.

A second study by the Rights and Resources Initiative and the Indian School of Business shows that at least 14 percent of more than 40,000 projects announced between January 2000 and October 2016 were stalled due to disputes over land acquisition.

When it comes to high-value projects, the figure is higher, at a fourth. Power projects were the worst affected, followed by cement, steel and mining, the report said.

The main reasons for disputes are loss of common lands - which communities use for farming, fishing, livestock rearing, and grazing; dissatisfaction with compensation amounts, and concern over environmental impact, the report said.

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