By Rina Chandran
MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Farmers and activists are protesting legislative efforts in two south Indian states that would make it easier to acquire land for infrastructure projects, as the battle for scarce land in the country becomes more contentious.
Andhra Pradesh state will introduce a law to accelerate land acquisitions for "public purposes", Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu said over the weekend.
Neighboring Telangana state last week passed a law that drops the federal requirements for public consensus and a social impact study for land acquired for infrastructure projects.
"Telangana's new law shuts the doors on farmers and other vulnerable communities who depend on the land for their livelihood," said Kiran Kumar Vissa at Rythu Swarajya Vedika, an umbrella organization of non-profits focused on agriculture.
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"It puts all the power in the hands of the state and wealthy land owners. The state will become nothing but a real estate agent for corporations."
His organization has held protests in Telangana's capital Hyderabad, and plans a statewide campaign against the law, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhara Rao defended the new law, saying India's 2013 Land Acquisition Act had slowed Telangana's development projects.
"It is not possible to do development projects without taking land. We have a right to amend the act," Rao said.
Land-related conflict is the main reason behind stalled industrial and development projects in India, affecting millions of people and putting billions of dollars of investment at risk, according to a recent report.
Federal law requires consensus to buy land, a social impact assessment, rehabilitation for those displaced, and compensation up to four times the market value.
States including Rajasthan and Gujarat have introduced laws that dilute some of the federal law's provisions.
Activists say states' ability to bypass these requirements sets a dangerous precedent, dismantling vital checks and balances.
The All India Kisan Sabha, a union fighting for peasants' and farmers' rights, has also held protests.
India has introduced several land laws in the past decade to give the vulnerable more rights, but many of these laws are diluted and do not protect poor farmers enough, activists say.
In Telangana, protests had erupted over the state's plan to acquire land for a reservoir with its controversial GO123 order that diluted several conditions of the federal law.
Andhra Pradesh recently introduced a land pooling scheme for its capital city Amaravati that activists say puts pressure on owners to give up their land.
The proposed new law gives the state even greater power, said E.A.S. Sarma, a land rights activist.
"In the name of expediting infrastructure projects, the new law does away with key safeguards," he said.
"The proposed amendments are highly regressive, anti-farmer and facilitate human rights violations. You can expect to see more protests."
(Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, editing by Alisa Tang. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)