Singur-larly good options
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Acquiring land in India is no easy business, as the Singur crisis showed. Here is another way. In today's circumstances, lets assume that, say, Reliance plans an oil pipeline that needs contiguous areas of land. If any one of the landowners in the path of the pipeline holds out, the project will not take off, leaving Reliance with several non-contiguous pieces of land and a large hole in their pocket. In an alternative scenario, instead of buying any plot of land, Reliance could choose to buy an option from the landowner. The option will give Reliance the right to buy the land at the prevailing market (or agreed upon) price within a period of three years (for instance). This option can be valued using simple decision analysis tools in a matter of minutes, and would be an order of magnitude cheaper than acquiring the land itself. Reliance could then plan multiple pipeline routes and try to acquire options on each of the routes. The moment they have all the options on a particular route, they can exercise all the options on that route and acquire all the contiguous pieces of land.
There are several benefits to this approach. First, as Reliance is a private party, they are not required to reveal the purpose of the acquisition. They can send out agents who don't even need to reveal that Reliance is behind the acquisition. The government, on the other hand, is required to reveal the purpose of their acquisition, resulting in landowners realising that they can make a lot of money if they hold out. The cost of acquisition will now be based on a good deal between the private party and the landowner. Second, as exercising the option is a legal right, there is no necessity for state coercion of the individual landowner. If someone holds out even after selling an option, that will be considered contractual fraud, and we have a legal framework in place to deal with that. The government no longer needs to deal with mass protests, the police no longer needs to open fire on hostile crowds, and entrepreneurs no longer need to sink large sums of money in legal costs. Third, if some people (tribals, farmers, or the middle class) have a strong connection to their land and don't want to leave it, all they have to do is not sell the option to their land. There should be no legal authority on the part of the government or the industry to force them to do so, and any forcible or fraudulent activity on the part of the entrepreneur would be subject to our existing legal framework that prohibits fraud and coercion. Human rights organisations can shift their focus from protesting to educating tribals and farmers about their options.