Shekhar Gupta writes in the Indian Express:
Have you sometimes wondered why reform in some areas of our infrastructure proceeds much faster than in others? You will see a clear pattern there. Anything that does not involve real estate, moves much faster. Telecom is a good example. Anything that involves land takes much longer. One of the greatest causes of delay in the national highway project is land acquisition. The Mumbai airport modernisation has run into the challenge of clearing the land — it desperately needs for expansion — of encroachments. Work in Delhi’s Commonwealth Games village has not begun yet because the Uttar Pradesh government, which owns a small part of the land to be acquired on Delhi’s side of the Yamuna, is loath to part with it. You go around the country listing delayed or blocked infrastructure projects and you will find this one, common thread: property.
Well, reforms get held up in sectors where there are powerful vested interests with a lot at stake, and property is obviously one those things when it comes to infrastructure. But I take issue with one of Gupta’s examples: I would imagine that the land acquisition issues that the national highway project is facing aren’t necessarily all due to vested interests, but also due to owners of private property resisting eminent domain. (That is, owners of land the government needs for the project not wanting to sell it to the government.)
In cases where an owner is not willing to part with his property, no price is fair, and a forced purchase is effectively theft. In fact, I would object to something like the Narmada Valley Project for the same reasons: that there is eminent domain involved, and people are being coerced out of their property. (Yes, yes, you can tell me all about the “common good,” but the greatest crimes of mankind have been committed invoking that dangerous term. To my mind, the common good is best served when everyone’s individual rights are safeguarded.)
Needless to say, there are few places in the world where private property is safeguarded from eminent domain. In the USA, for example, that principle suffered a sorry blow this year, with the infamous Kelo ruling. Pity.