The Political Economy of Land Acquisition in Bihar

Bureaucratic corruption and institutionalised confusion in paperwork have stifled land acquisition in the eastern state.

Nandlal Paswan is not the kind of man you can easily dupe. A decade ago, when the land prices began to rise exponentially in the outskirts of Patna, Nandlal had briefly made a side career as a land broker. The 48-year-old farmer still has the land rates of areas surrounding Sikandarpur, his village 45 kilometres west of Patna, on his fingertips. He even looks the part, sporting a thin moustache and gold draped all over his dark skin—a thick chain and a necklace of the Hindu monkey god Hanuman around the neck and two thick rings in the right hand. When asked about his fascination with the yellow metal, costing a total of 1,50,000, Nandlal jokes “even a poor man needs something to feel good about.” Probably realising that he has exaggerated his riches, he corrects himself: “With land gone, an investment like this makes me feel a bit secure.”

Nandlal first heard of the Bihar government’s plan to acquire 300 acres of land1 on the periphery of Sikandarpur in late 2011. A major chunk of this “land bank” was to be reserved for the private investors who might be interested in setting up factories in the landlocked state which is one of the poorest in the country. This land bank included the 1.7 acres of farmland that was owned by Nandlal and two of his brothers’ families. They used this land for cultivating rice, pulses, and vegetables. Paswans are a former untouchable caste, one of the many castes at the bottom of the oppressive Hindu caste hierarchy. Sikandarpur has about 60 Paswan households and most of them do not have much hope in life other than to farm the little land they have accumulated over the previous generations— often not more than 0.2 to 0.3 acres. The forced acquisition means loss of employment and loss of the only insurance they have.

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