The contestations over land continue to remain relevant in the age of capitalist industrialization. While in the pre-industrial world, land clearly maintained a central role in the generation and accumulation of wealth, modern industrialization and the subsequent upheaval of financial wealth circuits have by no means been able to relegate the land question to obscurity. The ever-expanding circuits of capital essentially encroach upon natural resources, including land, at an even faster rate. Thus, conflicts over land-use and ownership remain central to modern development discourses.
In recent decades, many developing countries have grappled with the issue of land either in their domestic economic policies or as part of international land deals driven by interests of transnational corporations. Given the broader contours of development, the use of ‘land resources’ clearly cannot be kept ‘frozen in time’. Historically, that has never been an option. However, faster and larger demands for land and the transformation of their use pose major challenges in terms of the processes and agencies involved. Is the state better than the market as an agency for this transformation?
This last and very important question is what the book under review seeks to engage with, in the context of Indian experience. A collection of twelve articles divided into three themed sections, namely theoretical questions, analysis of case studies of land acquisition and policy perspectives, the book successfully foregrounds the point that the central contradiction of which is a better agency for land acquisition is in turn embedded in several other dilemmas that exist within the development discourse.
There are three distinct dilemmas that can be identified in the book. The first is regarding the plausible strategies of development. Abhirup Sarkar underscores the continuing challenge of food security and livelihood security for a country like India, and presents this as a ‘choice problem’ between food self-sufficiency through large-scale irrigation based (and displacement inducing) productivity enhancement in agriculture on one hand and rapid industrialization at the cost of food self-sufficiency (and attaining food security through imports) on the other. While Sarkar does not give us clear answers, he has struck at the heart of the development debate in contemporary times.