The New Land Acquisition Bill Proposes To Strike A Balance Between Development And Displacement. But Experts Say It Still Needs To Address Some Key Issues That Have Led To Violent Protests Across India.
Surojit Gupta & Subodh Ghildiyal TNN
The UPA government’s land acquisition bill was expected to fill gaps in the archaic 1894 act and streamline the process of land acquisition and ensure fair compensation to farmers and landowners. But even before the bill is introduced in Parliament murmurs of dissent are being heard.
The Land Acquisition Amendment Bill, piloted by rural development minister Jairam Ramesh, has drawn fire from critics for legitimizing purchase of vast tracts of land, which could be used to exploit tribals and marginal farmers with state and muscle power.
Although the compensation package is attractive for landowners, industry is worried it would render projects unviable. Realty players say project costs could rise by 40-60% because of the resettlement and rehabilitation package proposed in the new bill.
Critics say the legislation has failed to strike a balance between development and displacement and its provisions are likely to be re-examined in the standing committee of Parliament. As industry bodies complaint, pro-farmer critics too feel some key aspects need to be fixed. For instance, some say a districtlevel regulator should be put in place to resolve any dispute when small and marginal farmers are either forced or induced to sell land by powerful contractors.
However, several others insist the present legislation is an improvement over the 1894 act but holes need to be plugged. Hardliners say acquisition of land for a company is not public purpose and this clause should be included in the bill. Clearly, the bill falls short on expectations that it will stop acquisitions for private companies by the government.
On the whole, Rajya Sabha member Debabrata Bandyopadhyay says, “It is a vast improvement over the 1894 act. This bill recognizes land not only as property but as a means of livelihood. For the first time, rehabilitation and resettlement are part of the land acquisition process. It is clear on the rehabilitation and resettlement issue.” “On the question of compensation, it is an improvement. There will be a debate but I would say let it get implemented and see how it works.”
By the government’s own admission, the new bill was necessary in the absence of a national law to provide for resettlement, rehabilitation and compensation for loss of livelihood. It professes to address farmers’ concerns and answer their livelihood questions. But whether the bill does these in right measure is the question. “Land markets in India are imperfect and there is asymmetry of power (and information) between those wanting to acquire land and those whose lands are being acquired. That is why there has to be a role for government to put in place rules and to ensure its enforcement,” rural development minister Jairam Ramesh says.
The government has tried to combine rehabilitation and resettlement with land acquisition as it feels not combining the two risks neglect of these aspects.
Government sources say the new bill comes with in-built safeguards. It proposes a minimum of four times the market value as compensation for land acquired by state governments in rural areas. But this is a dilution from the initial proposal to make compensation six times the original market value of the land. Another salient feature says a mandatory 80% of affected people must approve acquisition of land for public purpose. The new legislation defines the muchmisused public purpose clause. It will now stand for strategic purposes, infrastructure and industry. However, consent won’t be mandatory when the government acquires land for its own use.
Equally significant is the decision to invoke the urgency clause in the rarest of rare cases like national defence and emergencies arising out of natural calamities. As things stand now, several states have invoked this clause to acquire fertile land and passed it on to big realty companies.
The bill also sets a 10-year limit for acquired land to remain unused. The land would then revert to the state, which can either return it to the person from whom it was acquired or use the land for other public purposes.
It makes clear that a maximum 5% of multi-crop land can be acquired in a district, provided an equal area of degraded or wasteland is developed. Private companies would need to provide rehabilitation and resettlement packages even if they buy land directly from landowners, provided the area is over 50 acres in urban areas and 100 acres in rural areas. Private parties buying 50 acres in urban areas must inform the district collector about the intent of buying land and the purpose of purchase and particulars of land to be bought. The ministry has introduced the “retrospective effect” clause. So, this bill, when passed, will apply to all land acquisition where the “award has not been made under the 1894 land acquisition act” or “where the possession of land hasn’t been taken, regardless of whether the award has been made…”
Experts, though, talk of a need for better informing villagers whose land is being acquired. In tribal areas, where land has been acquired, there are numerous instances of compensation being blown up on expensive products or on meeting urgent household expenses and commitments leaving very little or no money for the future. As a result, several families who have got compensation have been forced to migrate to cities and work on construction sites for a living. The government can’t dictate how compensation funds are to be used. “That will be encroaching on privacy,” says former RBI governor Bimal Jalan. “But, there is a need to raise the level of literacy, particularly female literacy. Studies have shown that areas where female literacy is high, there is less wastage in welfare programmes. Also village-level institutions should be used to raise awareness so that farmers are better informed,” he says.
Industry is worried and says rehabilitation packages would push up costs. “CII is concerned about the cost of relief and rehabilitation that would be loaded on industry and the solatium ratios that are spelt out,” a statement from the industry lobby group says.
The bill ought to have tackled the compensation issue better, say some. “Tribals don’t have the propensity to save. The new law may assure increased compensation but land-for-land is the only just rehabilitation for tribals,” Poornima Upadhaya, of Khoj, an NGO, says.
New Bill: A Critique
On acquisition of agricultural land
The bill says maximum 5% of multi-crop land can be acquired in a district, provided equivalent wasteland is developed.
On displacement question
The bill doesn’t seem to have too many answers to the trauma of displacement
The bill increases compensation significantly. But not clear how problems of delays and corruption in payment process will be taken care.
Acquisition for pvt cos
Critics say there’s no reason why govt should use sovereign authority to acquire land for private entities. Present bill provides for ‘partial’ state acquisition for companies.
Bill needs to better address imbalance of power between those acquiring land and those whose land being acquired, unfair deal can’t be ruled out.
Food security & land use
Change of land use from agricultural to non-agricultural ought to have been addressed better and should’ve addressed the issue of food security
Ought to have been defined better. Babudom decides and interprets each case, open to misuse.
‘Land for land' principle figures only in case of irrigation projects.
LAND CAN BE ACQUIRED BY GOVT For its own use To hand over land to pvt cos for public purpose For use by pvt cos for certain declared activities
WHAT IS PUBLIC PURPOSE? When consent of 80% affected families not needed Strategic purposes Infrastructure and industry Natural calamities Rehabilitation and resettlement Land for railways, highways, ports, power and irrigation purposes Consent of 80% families that will be affected needed for acquisitions to be made for private companies
COMPENSATION FOR RURAL AREAS Won’t be less than four times original market value.
FOR URBAN AREAS Not less than twice that of market value
ACQUISITION OF MULTI-CROP LAND Allowed up to 5% in a district, with riders.
REHAB AND RESETTLEMENT Apart from subsistence allowance, 20% of appreciated land value within 20 years to be shared with original owner For those who have lost livelihood, apart from subsistence and a one-time resettlement allowance, mandatory job for one member per affected family or Rs 2 lakh Separate allowance for SCs and STs Provision will be applicable even when pvt cos purchase land if it is more than 100 acres in rural and 50 acres in urban areas.
1894 ACT: THE FLAWS
The Land Acquisition Act criticized as weak, ineffective and draconian Procedures cumbersome and costly, often resulting in inordinate delays Public purpose clause often misused Property valuation techniques often flawed Relocation and rehabilitation of displaced not followed up adequately.