From Detroit to Singur

“As land gets transferred from agriculture to industry, many people (like share croppers and landless workers) will lose their livelihood. It would be morally reprehensible to drive a Nano or a Cadillac on the dirt roads wet with the tears of the dispossessed. Economic rehabilitation of these displaced workers remains the first priority of any responsible government.”

An article by Professor Subhash Ray recently appeared in the November 17, 2009 issue of the highly esteemed biweekly literary magazine, Desh, published in Bengali from Calcutta. His paper draws upon the parallel between the experiences of General Motors in Poletown, MI in the 1980s and the recent events relating to Tata Motors and the agricultural land in Singur, West Bengal, to raise a number of questions about government taking of land for private development. A brief review of the history of land acquisition through eminent domain in the US serves as the background for a discussion of the different important questions like the problem of strategic holdouts and fair compensation. The essay ends with an emphasis on the moral obligation of the government, especially in India, for proper rehabilitation of the displaced when exercise of Eminent Domain powers becomes unavoidable.

His paper has attracted a lot of attention and has been highly acclaimed by scholars interested in the question of land acquisition for economic development. An English version of the paper is available as a University of Connecticut Economics working paper. The original article in Bengali is available on request from the author.