On the Question of Land Acquisition for Private Development: Lessons from the US, India, and China
In most countries the government is empowered by the Constitution to acquire privately owned land for public use on payment of fair compensation for the land acquired. For infrastructure projects like a highway or a dam, the land acquired remains under public ownership. In many cases, however, private land is often taken for industrialization or even construction of commercial and residential real estate in the name of urban redevelopment. In such cases, the acquired land is transferred to a private party. This paper draws upon the parallel between different incidents of forcible acquisition of private land in the US, India, and China. The cases of General Motors in Poletown near Detroit, MI in the 1980s and the recent events relating to Tata Motors and the agricultural land in Singur, West Bengal 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 also looks into the special problems of land acquisition in China.
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