Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Many Holes To Fill In Land Bill

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
Compensation issue
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.
Private purchase
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
Public purpose
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.
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.

courtsy: http://epaper.timesofindia.com/Default/Client.asp?Daily=CAP&showST=true&login=default&pub=TOI&Enter=true&Skin=TOINEW

Did someone say the bill is farmer friendly?

Supriya Sharma
TNN Janjgir Champa (Chhattisgarh):

Great men, including Mahatma Gandhi, have said that the test for any country is how it treats the poor. It is a test worth extending to the new land acquisition bill. How does it impact the poorest of poor farmers? Take the case of Sadhram Gond, an adivasi farmer who lives in Chhattisgarh’s Janjgir Champa district, where 36 coal-fired power plants are slated to come up.
The largest cluster of power projects anywhere in the country, it would require 40,000 acres of land, 40 times the scale of acquisition in Singur, 10 times that of Yamuna Expressway. This mega wave of acquisition hit Gond and his family, when a Hyderabad-based company decided to build a 3,600MW power plant in his village Rogda. Gond was among the first lot of farmers it approached. Company officials persuaded the old man to sell his land, promising to give his young son a job.
According to Chhattisgarh government's policy, one acre of double-crop land must fetch a minimum Rs 10 lakh per acre, and single crop land Rs 8 lakh per acre. But Gond got just 1.55 lakh per acre, since his land was not acquired by the government, but purchased directly by the company, and hence, did not come under state law. Now, if the transaction had taken place under the new land acquisition bill, how would it have affected Gond?
Under the bill, compensation is fixed at four times the market price of land. With land in Janjgir Champa priced less than Rs 1 lakh per acre, four times would not be more than 4 lakh. That’s less than half of what the state government policy already provides for. Furthermore, just like the state policy, the new bill has no provision to regulate compensation in cases where farmland is purchased directly by companies. Direct purchase in Chhattisgarh most often happens through lies and subterfuge, by unleashing agents, or roping in powerful figures, like the home minister's son, who acted as an agent for Videocon, abusing official power to buy land for the company from poor tribal farmers for a pittance, as reported in this paper in the month of June.
The only safeguard that the new bill offers in such cases is that it makes rehabilitation binding on companies buying more than 100 acres of land. But what does rehabilitation amount to? A Rs 2,000 per month as annuity for 20 years, and a job for every project affected family, or a one-time cash payment of Rs 2 lakh.
Gond sold his land lured by the promise of a job for his son Gajpal. After months of agitation, the company gave Gajpal, a commerce graduate trained in IT, a temporary job with a monthly salary of Rs 5,000. But under the new land acquisition bill, the company need not even incur this recurring liability. It can pay Gond Rs 2 lakh, and wash its hands of the whole affair. No land, no job, just a little money that they don’t know how to use. Did someone say the bill is farmer friendly?

Forcible acquisition of land is on in Modi’s Gujarat

Rukmini Shrinivasan
TIG Sanand (Gujarat)

Gujarat’s industrialisation story is well known, but what is less clear is how exactly the land to house these industries is being acquired. The situation in the state’s showpiece region shows that Gujarat is undoubtedly compensating its farmers better than others, but forcible acquisition is certainly taking place. The Tata Motors decision to shift its Nano plant from Singur in West Bengal to Sanand, a block in Ahmedabad district, has pushed this agricultural area on to the industrial map. The Nano factory was allotted 1,100 acres of government land (which formerly housed farmland belonging to the state’s agricultural university) in Sanand, 25km from Ahmedabad.
The Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) then decided to set up an industrial estate in the same neighbourhood, which in its first phase will cover 2,400 hectares, 1,500 of which have already been acquired. “It will be an engineering and knowledge hub with a focus on auto,” says B B Swain, vice-chairman and managing director, GIDC. The statutory body charged with overseeing Gujarat’s industrialization has already allotted 450 acres near the Nano factory to Ford, and another 150 to Ford vendors. Names of other auto majors – Maruti, Peugeot – are in the air.
None of this can take place without the acquisition of agricultural land from Sanand’s farmers. Undoubtedly, GIDC is offering farmers in this area an attractive price — Rs 1,200 per square metre, or Rs 1.2 crore per hectare. To use the local measure, this works out to Rs 28.53 lakh per bigha, and the smallest landholding that TOI came across was of nine bighas.
Many farmers are certainly more than happy to sell their land. Bol village, closest to Tata’sNano motorcar plant, was the first to sell its land. Nearby Hirapur is, in small bits, coming round.
“Farming is hard work with low returns. Ours is a joint family of 17 members, and with nine bighas, we would have no savings at the end of the year,” says Hirapur resident Raghubhai Patel (25), as he watches his brand new flatscreen TV in a one room of his two-floorbungalow that is under construction.
However, beyond these muchreported stories of Sanand farmers who got rich overnight are those of the farmers who don’t want to. For, even though GIDC is paying over four times the price per bigha that the Greater Noida authority offered farmers, the fact remains that Sanand’s farmers too do not have the option not to sell. “What we are doing is en bloc acquisition. Most farmers are happy to sell, and in these cases there is a ‘consent award’ in which we pay Rs 1,200 per square metre. However, if for some reason the land cannot be acquired by consent, GIDC has to go for a ‘regular award’ which is a substantially lower price,” says Swain. What this means is that farmers who do not want to sell their land will find it deemed acquired at the end of an as-yet-unspecified period of time, after which they can claim compensation from the court at a rate far less than they would have got if they hadn’t held out.
It is not that such farmers do not exist. Some, like Hirapur’s Jalabhai Patel, say that they are waiting for a higher price. Others, like sarpanch Kantibhai Rathod, say they simply do not want to sell their land. “This is land irrigated by the Narmada. It is rich and we can count on it. I am my own boss. I don’t want to lose it,” says Rathod. His son Kiran is in Class X. “I want to study ahead but I also want to keep farming. I don’t want the money,” he adds. Kantibhai Prajapati, who is taking his buffalo out to graze with his son Prateek, points to his seven bighas of land where rice stalks poke through the submerged fields. “What will I do with money? I want to feed my children, and for that I need my land. I am not going to sell it,” he says.
The new draft Land Acquisition Bill, which governs all land acquisition, does not protect farmers from the government acquiring land for such “public purposes” as industrialisation, as in the case of the GIDC hub. While a previous draft said that multi-crop irrigated land, as all of Sanand’s land is, would not be acquired even for public purposes, the draft cleared by the Cabinet allows such acquisition too.