Land acquisition for infrastructure projects is now a common phenomenon across India. The Government’s economic policies through public-private partnerships, special economic zones, incentivise industry resulting in phenomenal industrial growth. Land acquisition has been prominent for tourism projects all over the country and has tremendously adverse impacts on livelihood, access to resources, decision- making powers of the community and socio-cultural ethos.
With the opening up of the Indian economy in the 1990s and a drive for private investments, land acquisition was crucial to the economic structure. The roll-out of Special Tourism Zones, land banks, and tourism policies focussed around tourism promotion has caused concern for farmer groups, fisherfolk communities and people’s movements.
The growth of tourism has put immense pressure on land needs and areas are increasingly acquired to accommodate for the tourism industry. The intensity of protests against displacement underway in various parts of the world, land acquisition for infrastructure, mining, mega tourism projects and industrial projects has become a highly contentious issue.
Land conversions for large-scale tourism complexes are unreasonable and irresponsible. The lure of quick cash has lead to the appropriation of all kinds of lands for mega commercial ventures like tourism and real estate projects resulting in significantly diverting the amount of land suitable for agriculture and other more productive activities.
"Land grabs" by resort and real estate developers pose a rampant problem the world over, "sea grabs" for the development of commercial water-based tourism activities such as cruising, boating and diving, have also become commonplace.
In Maharashtra, we see one of the countries largest ‘smart-cities’, spread over 5,058 hectares, the hill station Lavasa. This development has been a nightmarish experience for 18 villages from where the land has been "acquired" to develop Lavasa. Mostly inhabited by tribals and their lands, according to the law, can neither be transferred nor sold. But the Maharashtra government issued special resolutions to ensure the land was acquired for development. Most families here were created by local agents or their land records changed, received cheques that bounced, and the few who hold on to their lands threatened and live in constant fear for their life. This development constructed a private dam stripping farmers downstream of drinking and irrigation water
It has been common knowledge for many years that big money from the global shadow economy (e.g. drug, arms smuggling, human trafficking) has significantly boosted the construction of mega-resorts. In the 1980s, Japanese anti-golf course campaigners warned that the yakuza, the Japanese mafia, was a significant factor behind the resort and golf course boom in the Asia Pacific region. Similar links are becoming more and more evident in Goa, on the Western Coast of India, where mafia, drugs land sharks linked with Russian tourists have ravaged the region.
Contrary to the claims of industry and government leaders, that tourism brings progress and prosperity to poor regions, in most poor and developing countries the lure of investment, unregulated nature of tourism and support of global neo-liberal economic forces has resulted in the State withdrawing from economic activities that lead to overall growth and development. The private interests that own the organised industry generate tremendous profits from tourism operations, but this remains in the hands of a few and does not trickle down to benefit the local communities.
Efforts to battle hunger and poverty, in these countries, are being undermined by the massive land-use change from food-producing land and marine areas to tourism zones. Instead of further boosting unproductive and unsustainable tourism and service sectors, governments need to secure the livelihoods of small farmers and fisher-folk. As many countries in the South are already experiencing the impacts of climate change - in the form of more frequent and severe droughts and floods, for example -, governments should no longer approve or even subsidize the construction of luxurious hotels, villas and golf courses. Such projects are not only devouring much-needed agricultural lands but also put additional stress on natural resources that in these times of warming climate must be preserved to sustain the lives and livelihoods of their population.
EQUATIONS works to end the global mega-resort and real estate boom. Land and natural resources are part of our collective commons and should belong to all people in a country. They must be preserved and used wisely to benefit local communities, particularly in these times of crisis and uncertainties
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