Sunday, February 5th, 2023 07:42:18

The Fiasco Over Land Acquisition Amendment Ordinance

Updated: May 23, 2015 2:21 pm

Even the 16th century legendary administrator Sher Shah Suri would have found it impossible to construct another Grand Trunk Road. In India, our present Land Acquisition Act will not allow such a thing to happen. According to N.C. Saxena, Member of the National Advisory Council, “To acquire one acre of land, the file needs to go through 300 hands and five years’ time.” Even after 500 years, with all the technical innovation and administrative genius, it would have been impossible for Sher Shah Suri to build another 2500km- long GT Road, simply because he ruled only for five years, from 1540 to 1545.

Furthermore, Sher Shah’s Grand Trunk Road, described by Rudyard Kipling as “the backbone of all Hind—such a river of life as nowhere else exists in the world,” has still not lost its relevance today. Over the centuries, this road, which was built along one of the most important trade routes in the region, facilitated both travel and postal communications.

Our government needs to build such infrastructure in order to facilitate any kind of development, which is benevolent to its countrymen. For this, first and foremost we require land acquired in a reasonable time frame, balancing the interests of all the stakeholders.

Ever since the NDA government came to power in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been vigorously campaigning for the ‘Make in India’ vision, which aims at boosting domestic manufacturing. Modi is wooing foreign companies to invest in India, but in vain, as land acquisition is a major problem for these firms to set up businesses. Many of them have dropped their investment plans over the past few years, due to this problem.

According to noted journalist Amulya Ganguli, “The Manmohan Singh government made it inordinately difficult for business houses to acquire land in the law enacted by his government in 2013. The land acquisition law of 2013 was a polar opposite to the 1894 land acquisition law which was not favorable for the owners of agricultural land.”

In order to understand the two ‘polar opposite’ acts, let us go back to the very basics. Land is India’s scarcest resource and the source of livelihood for over half its population. Land acquisition refers to the process where the central or state government acquires land for various infrastructure and economic growth initiatives.

The Land Acquisition Act of 1894 enabled the British government to acquire any land in the name of “public purpose”. The British had never defined the words “public purpose” clearly, as a result in the name of “public purpose”, the government could acquire land for any purpose they wanted.

Even after Independence, this practice continued whereby Indian governments, both at the central and at the state levels, acquired large amounts of land for various kinds of development and infrastructure projects, such as roads, highways, port, power projects etc. Till 1991, most of these acquisitions had been done for the public sector. After 1991, when liberalization had taken place, most of the land acquisition was done by the government to provide land for the private sector, either for private sector projects (infrastructure projects like power, roads etc.) or for housing projects.

On account of this unfair Act there had been widespread protests over the years against many such projects, like Tehri Dam, Sardar Sarovar dam, Singur, Nandigram, and very recently Bhatta Parsaul. There were growing demands from not just the activists, but even from the corporates for a transparent and accountable land acquisition process so that while the people could get adequate compensation and would be suitably rehabilitated, corporates do not have to face delays on account of protests against land acquisition.

As a result of this “polar opposition” the Land Acquisition Act was introduced in 2011, and passed in the Lok Sabha on Augus 29, 2013 and on September 4, 2013 in Rajya Sabha. The bill received the assent of the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee on September 27, 2013. The Act came into force from January 1, 2014.

The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2103-was created to deal with widespread protests against land acquisition.

The law has five important elements

  • Increased compensation for farmers-market prices are doubled in urban and quadrupled in rural areas
  • Expanded coverage of compensation-non-owners facing loss of livelihood are compensated
  • Rehabilitation and resettlement of people evicted from their lands was made compulsory
  • Taking informed consent of land-losers-using referendums, specifically when the acquisition has any private sector involvement; the consent of 70 per cent of families is required where land is sought to be acquired for public-private partnership projects, and 80 per cent for private projects
  • Social impact assessments to determine a project’s impact on people’s lands and livelihoods, more specifically, to identify all affected people.
  • In order to fulfill Narendra Modi’s vision of ‘Make in India’ and to strike a balance between the two extremes, the NDA government felt the need for some amendments in LARR Act. Apart from accelerating GDP growth, which necessitates a better infrastructure the following factors were taken into considerations:
  • Plea from state governments for leverage to make processes easier and fair.
  • To simplify and expedite the process of acquisition and compensation, to initiate ground work at a faster rate.
  • To ensure confidentiality on the perspective of national security.

Accordingly some key changes were made, which were fundamental to the overall growth and development of the country, keeping in mind the long-term benefits meted out to villagers, farmers and more importantly farm labourers.

The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill, 2015 was introduced in the Lok Sabha by the Minister for Rural Development, Mr. Ch. Birender Singh on February 24, 2015. The Bill amends the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition. A few changes were made by the ruling government in the existing Act and proposed in the new bill.

Removal of Consent Clause and Social Impact Assessment

The LARR Act, 2013 requires that the consent of 80 per cent of landowners is obtained for private projects, and that the consent of 70 per cent

of landowners be obtained for Public-Private Partnership projects.

Consent Clause and Social Impact Assessment clause were exempted from the following five categories of land use (for security reasons and for reinforcing the base of development that requires immediate action) from certain provisions:

  • Defence
  • Industrial corridors
  • National security
  • Rural infrastructure & electrification
  • Housing for the poor
  • Return of unutilized land and time period for retrospective application

The LARR Act, 2013 states that the land acquired under it, if remains un-utilized for five years, must be returned to the original owners or the land bank.

The new Bill states that the period after which unutilized land will need to be returned will be: five years, or any period specified at the time of setting up the project, whichever is later.

The LARR Act, 2013 states that the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 will continue to apply in certain cases, where an award has been made under the 1894 Act. However, if such an award was made before September 2008, and the physical possession of land has not been taken or compensation has not been paid, the LARR Act, 2013 will apply.

The Bill states that in calculating this time period, any period during which the proceedings of acquisition were held up due to a stay order of a court, or a period specified in the award of a Tribunal for taking possession, or any period where possession has been taken but the compensation is lying deposited in a court or any account, will not be counted.

The LARR Act, 2013 stated that if the government commits an offence, the head of the department would be considered guilty, unless he could show that the offence was committed without his knowledge, or that he/she had implemented required meticulousness to prevent the occurrence of the offence.

The Bill replaces this provision and states that if a government official commits an offence, he cannot be prosecuted without the prior consent of the government.

To oppose this Bill many political parties have come together, particularly for political reasons to corner the NDA government and are agitating against it, calling the Bill and the Government, anti-farmer and pro-industry.

In spite of severe opposition, the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Ordinance, 2014 was promulgated on December 31, 2014 as a course corrective measure to overcome the restrictive LARR 2013.

In order to ratify this ordinance, the Union Government made nine amendments to the present Bill. But it refused to bring back the consent clause or social impact assessment, which are the major bone of contention.

The nine amended provisions which were accepted in the Bill include

  • Removed exemptions for Social Infrastructure Projects in public-private-partnership mode
  • Land that will be acquired for industrial corridors will be limited to one kilometer on either side of highways and railway lines
  • Compulsory employment will be provided to one member of a farming family that is selling its land
  • A hassle-free grievance redressal mechanism of land losers will be put in place
  • Farmers may get right to appeal/complain over land acquisition hearing and redressal of grievances at the district level
  • Ceiling on land for acquisition in industrial corridors
  • Panchayat’s nod may be mandatory for acquiring tribal land
  • Government may acquire land for government bodies, corporations
  • Term private entity was replaced with private enterprise

Lok Sabha on March 10, 2015 passed the above Land Acquisition (amendment) Bill, 2015 by voice vote. But failed to get further support.

The opposition is still trying vehemently to obstruct the bill and also take political millage out of it. Apart from the consent clause and the social impact assessment clause, returning of unused lands is the major demand.

According to Jairam Ramesh, “The provision of acquiring one-km stretch of land on either side of the major road is being done with an intention to help private companies.”

According to eminent economist, Lord Meghnad Desai, “The distress of the farmers is a result of long-run structural neglect of the sector, especially of subsistence farmers… nothing seems to have changed over the past 60 years–subsistence farms with small uneconomic plots, lack of rural credit, harsh revenue officers, large landlords receiving extra help from the same officials and their political masters. They may shed crocodile tears for the kisans but the parties sitting in Opposition created this problem by their policies.”

Farming is the least productive sector of the economy−agriculture accounts for 15 per cent of India’s GDP, while employing more than half of its workforce. So India’s scarcest resource is also its least productive. This is a very serious problem and a fundamental reason for India’s poverty.

In order to save the future generations of farmers from more misery, serious efforts are needed from the Modi government. The small non-viable farms need to be phased out and farmers and their families have to be given a permanent viable economic alternative. This is where quick infrastructural schemes are crucial. Manufacturing industries have to be set up fast and in order to secure the future of the next generation of farmers.

It is an extremely difficult task but the government will have to take a strong stand and reach out to farmers with a lot of sensitivity and compassion. The opposition will also have to play a more responsible role otherwise even if they gain a political point, the future generations will suffer on account of their shortsightedness. I one is sure, the visionary in Narendra Modi and his dynamic team of Ministers will be able to make a viable Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act.

By Madhumanti Sengupta

Plight Of Farmers

A Staple Food For Opposition Politics

“Mujhe pata nahin ki is zameen par kheti ho sakti hai ki nahin, par is par rajniti avashya ho sakti hai” These are the words of a recent cartoon in a national Hindi daily. The position is analogous to the situation that has developed in the passage of the Land Acquisition Bill 2015 passed by Lok Sabha (LS) and awaiting approval of the Rajya Sabha (RS). The Bill has provided a good staple food for opposition parties. The present NDA government led by Narendra Modi is in minority in RS. The opposition is trying to exploit this situation to embarrass the Modi government to settle scores for its defeat in Parliament elections last year and some State assemblies later on. The Congress and AAP anti-bill rallies in which one Gajendra Singh committed ‘suicide’ leave no one in doubt about their real intentions.

We need to appreciate the constitutional reality. LS is a house directly elected by the people while the RS is indirectly elected. The Council of Ministers headed by Prime Minister is collectively responsible to LS and not RS. The Government is mandated by the people to fulfill promises made to them during LS elections. Any hurdle created in the way cannot be a happy augury. During the last 68 years of independence, for more than 50 years Congress ruled the country and the states. It was its wrong policies

which turned the lucrative and respectable vocation of farming into a losing proposition.

Role Of Nehru

The farming community today is harvesting a crop of misery whose seeds were sown by the Nehru government. At the time of framing of Articles 31, according to a Statesman article, it was Nehru who wanted the British legacy of forcible land acquisition to continue. He even did not favour compensation. On the contrary, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the then Home Minister, stressed that farmers should be given adequate compensation. Farmers suffered because of Patel’s untimely death and Nehru had his way.

Pandit Nehru was obsessed with the USSR’s communist ideology of no fundamental right to property and he wanted to follow it in India. In the statement of Objections and Reasons for the Constitution (Fourth Amendment) Act, 1955 Nehru stated: “The deprivation of property referred to in clause (1) is to be construed in the widest sense as including any curtailment of a right to property. Even where it is caused by a purely regulatory provision of law and is not accompanied by an acquisition or taking possession of that or any other property right by the State, the law, in order to be valid according to these decisions, has to provide for compensation under clause (2) of the article. It is considered necessary, therefore, to re-state more precisely the State’s power of compulsory acquisition and requisitioning of private property and distinguish it from cases where the operation of regulatory or prohibitory laws of the State results in “deprivation of property”.

Sentimental Opposition

Indians, by nature, entertain a sentimental attachment to their ancestral land and dwellings. To sell one’s ancestral house or land for whatever pressing purpose/reason is considered a matter of shame. If worst comes to worst, a person may raise a loan by mortgaging his ancestral property but would not sell it. This situation has led to progressively pushing farmers into debt trap.

For tribals, land is not a commodity which can be traded or sold. “You can’t remove the soul from the body,” the Economic Times reported a tribal saying. The ancestral land is not just the only source of their livelihood; it is an integral part of their culture and identity. The opposition to the sale of their ancestral land motivated by this sentiment alone is being exploited by opposition parties to earn political dividends. In earlier scheme of things, places of worship like mosques, churches and temples were excluded from the purview of acquisition. These were allowed to continue where they were. This needs to be provided in the present Bill too.

We should also not lose sight of the hard reality that land with most of the farmers is not enough to make their both ends meet. That is why they have to resort to other means of earning. This had also been the cause of exodus from villages to towns and cities. With the four times the market price of the land alongwith provision of employment to one member of the family and assurance of rehabilitation, parting with the land is not a losing proposition.

‘Industry & Farmers Not Opponents’

In the view of the industry, the new Land Acquisition Bill “will create millions of jobs, meet the aspirations of farmers and help spur growth in the economy”. According to Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), “Industry and farmers should not be viewed as opponents… Development needs equitable participation by industry and the farm community.” It welcomed the proposal in the Bill that “the industrial corridors should be built in such a way that they run within a narrow distance with various highways, thereby giving a fillip to the development of the entire rural area in the vicinity—through employment opportunities and enhanced land value”.

Crisis Of Confidence

During the first two-three decades of Congress government, lakhs of hectares of land was acquired for Bhakhra, Pong Dam, and other public purposes for a song from the farmers. Their rehabilitation and compensation matters are still hanging fire even after five decades.

It is one of the greatest hurdles in the way of convincing the farmers to part with their land on the promise of a quick and rosy rehabilitation for a happy future. The dark of experiences of the past is eclipsing the rosy promises made by the government.

Farmers are not solely dependent upon land and crops only. They

have some ancillary and supplementary avocations too, like a tea

stall, a small shop or the roadside dhaba. If they are uprooted, they are not sure of their being able to earn that much elsewhere too. The Government has to instill confidence in the mind of the affected farmers that what is promised will be done and done in no time.

One Window Service

Governments at the Centre and states have introduced one-window service to attend to the problems of the industry. It is time a similar mechanism is developed for the uprooted farmers so that their grievances are redressed there and then and they have not to run from pillar to post for months and years together.

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