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Convention on the great land grab saga in India and Ethiopia (Feb.6, 2013)



Feb. 6, 2013, India International Centre, New Delhi

Background Note

Control over land and natural resources has recently become a subject of heated debate in India, and is, today, one of the central fault lines of Indian politics. New research in December 2012 by the Society for Promotion of Wastelands Development (SPWD), New Delhi and the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), Washington predicts massive resource takeover spurring conflict in 130 districts of India. The research indicates that India is a leader among land-grabbing emerging nations. Not only are rights flouted at home but Indian firms are doing the same abroad.

The ongoing land takeover in India is captured in new findings released recently and illustrated on a map recording recent protests in 130 of India’s 602 districts, in virtually all states of India, most of which took place in 2011 and 2012. The government agencies and investors are responsible for a growing spate of violent clashes in the nation’s forest and tribal areas. The study argues that the reports of civil unrest, gathered from a review of newspaper articles and court cases, are the outcome of a massive transfer of resources from the rural poor to investors, aided by the government.

The Indian government acts as a facilitator to the whole process rather than the main player. It is supporting the conventional new Greenfield foreign direct investments, merger and acquisition purchases of existing firms; public-private partnerships; specific tariff reductions on agricultural goods imported to India through the negotiation of regional bilateral trade and investment treaties and double taxation (avoidance) agreements. The largest single line of credit approved by the Exim Bank so far has gone to Ethiopia ($ 640 million) for its Tindaho Sugar Project and it is also widely expected to facilitate Indian investments. The soft loans, with an annual interest rate of 1.75 per cent, are to be repaid over 20 years.

Indian companies are the second largest investors in the Ethiopian economy with approved investments worth nearly $5 billion and land lease agreements for over 4.4 lakh hectares across Ethiopia, 1 lakh hectares of which has been granted to a single Bangalore-based company, Karuturi Global Ltd. International. According to a news report in the Indian Express, “The land lease rate in Punjab’s Doaba region is a minimum of Rs 40,000 per acre. In contrast, in most African nations, the land lease rate in terms of Indian currency comes to Rs 700 per acre. This means that for every one acre in Punjab, Indian investors can own 60 acre in Africa. With a per capita land holding of 1.5 acre in Punjab, agriculture is ceasing to be a sustainable activity.”

Oakland Institute's (OI), co-organising this convention, has been doing pioneering research and working with Ethiopian groups. OI was targeted by the Ethiopian government for highlighting ongoing human rights abuses related to large scale land deals. See OI response.

The convention will bring together activists resisting this land grab in different parts of India to share their experiences, sufferings and collectively ponder on the way forward in challenging these land grabbers let loose by the so-called 'world's largest democracy.'

Presentations from Ethiopian & Indian activists.

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