Following Prime Minister Manmohan Singh invitation to China to set up special economic zones and industrial parks in India, a high-level official delegation from Haryana organised a seminar at the 5th China Overseas Investment Fair held in Beijing in early December, offering land, power and other  necessary infrastructure for setting up industrial parks. While the prime minister is expecting Chinese foreign direct investment to boost manufacturing output, already sluggish because of surging cheaper imports from China, Haryana is going all out to woo Chinese companies to buy farmland. It has already taken around some potential Chinese investors and shown them sites extending to as much as 6,000 acres in Gohana. Not only Haryana, Chinese investors have also visited Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu looking for probable sites.

Haryana already has signed an agreement with the Japanese major Mitsui to set up an industrial park in the national capital region. Haryana is no exception. Foreign companies from Britain, US, Austria and Thailand have concluded 36 deals to buy agricultural land in India in the states of Gujarat, Orissa, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. Seven of these deals have already been completed allowing 13,105 hectares to be acquired. This much land acquisition is only for seven deals. Imagine the extent of productive and fertile land that needs to be acquired for all the 36 deals in the pipeline.

These figures are based on an excellent detailed insight provided by the website, Land Matrix. Interestingly, the Chinese investors are being offered land for ‘purchase’ and they will have the right to re-sell the land.

With more and more Chinese investments pouring in, it is time to also revisit strategic ties with China. After all, with lakhs of soldiers deployed in harsh terrain to guard the 3,380 km long Line of Control with China, of which Arunachal Pradesh alone has a common border extending to 1,463 km, the thrust is to protect every inch of land against Chinese intrusion. This policy of protecting national borders certainly needs a review considering that the Chinese are being allowed to purchase land within the country. But will Beijing ever allow Indian companies to buy such huge tracts of farmland in China?

Nevertheless, coming back to the contentious issue of farmland grab, I remember some years ago, the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, had on a visit to Oman, invited Omani firms to farm in India to produce crops that can be exported. At a time when food prices have hit the roof and any measure to limit domestic production should raise concerns considering the growing food requirement for feeding the nation in the years to come, the public policy priorities  seem out of tune.

So far you had read that Indian companies were buying land in Africa, Asia and South America. Of the 848 land grab deals concluded globally since 2008, 80 involve Indian companies that have invested in 65 deals to grow foodgrains, sugarcane, oilseeds, tea and flowers. And as a news report computed, India has already bought land abroad nine times the size of Delhi.

While Indian companies are buying land abroad, foreign companies are buying land in India. That India has now turned a major destination for global land sharks has to be viewed with concern.

At this rate the day is not far off when increasingly more and more people will become landless in their own country. The US National Academy of Science calls it ‘a new form of colonialism’ while mainline economists term it as a model of economic growth. However, the fact remains that land grab has become a major investment activity over the past few years. This is frightening as it has grave human rights implications, and will impact global food security to say the least. It calls for a national debate.

Devinder Sharma is a food policy analyst

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