Land acquisition for development entails striking a tough balance between accommodating the galloping demands of urbanisation and assuaging the often acute sense of deprivation that loss of land engenders. Land acquisition has tended to be particularly problematic in States with large tracts of fertile agricultural land — as in the case of Uttar Pradesh where the abundantly yielding Yamuna-Ganga plains have repeatedly erupted in protest. In the vortex of the current storm are two ambitious projects of Chief Minister Mayawati. When completed, the 1,047 km long, access-controlled, eight-lane Ganga Expressway will connect Noida in the National Capital Region with Ballia in the eastern end of U.P. On the other hand, the 165-km, six-lane, Yamuna Expressway between Greater Noida and Agra is a re-incarnation of the Taj Expressway originally conceived as an adjunct to the infamous Taj corridor project. Both projects require the acquisition of tens of thousands of hectares of fertile land along the meandering courses of the two mighty rivers. No government can embark on construction on this gargantuan scale without expecting to encounter opposition. Fair and just compensation is one aspect of the problem. There are also serious environmental concerns arising from the threatened degradation of the ecology of river basins.

The injection of politics compounds issues around land acquisition. The Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Samajwadi Party, and the Rashtriya Lok Dal have ganged up against the U.P. Chief Minister with a political opportunism that is impossible to miss. Not surprisingly, truth has become the biggest casualty in the war of words between the State government and the opposition. The Mayawati government's case is that acquisition is not an issue at all and that compensation amounting to Rs.300 crore for 450 hectares of land has already been paid and accepted. The all-in opposition insists that land has been forcibly acquired from unwilling farmers. The agitating farmers seem not so much against acquisition as they are against inadequate sums paid as compensation; they point, for example, to the exceptionally high prices at which the acquired land has been sold to builders and developers. That there is a government-builder nexus profiting from such sales has been proven over and over. With just a year left for the Assembly election, the opposition obviously wants to trip up Chief Minister Mayawati on the farmers' issue, denting her image as a champion of social justice. The Chief Minister, who dramatically seized power four years ago, has her job cut out.