Lately governments have become land acquisition agents for private players
The draft Land Acquisition Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill (LARR Bill) is in public domain for discussion. The Bill makes a right start when in the preamble it declares that cumulative outcome of compulsory acquisition should be that affected persons become partners in development. To ensure this partnership LARR Bill seems to have come up with solutions for some of the most vexatious issues that the existing law faces and has introduced some innovative and much needed provisions such as for resettlement and rehabilitation of affected people. However some important issues still have not been dealt with comprehensively and would require more deliberations and debate.
Fertile, irrigated, multi-crop land out of bounds for compulsory acquisition
It sure makes sense to ensure that the fertile irrigated land of the country which is yielding us more than one crop a year should be spared compulsory acquisition given the need to feed the teeming millions and pressure to enhance food production to meet the ever increasing demand. Having a wider perspective on development and a legal mandate keeping fertile, irrigated and multi-crop land out of bounds for compulsory acquisition are also in the larger national interest. However, to ensure that such regions don’t remain untouched by development, land acquisitions in such regions can be permitted on fulfilment of some stringent conditions to be mentioned in the proposed law.
Affected people guaranteed a voice by Social Impact Assessment (SIA)
To ensure participation of affected people in the acquisition process and to give them a legitimate forum to articulate their concerns before the process is actually started, SIA is envisaged to be carried out in consultation with the Gram Sabha at the habitation level in which public hearing would be an integral and mandatory part. This is indeed a welcome development but one still needs to know the sanctity and impact of such SIA on the proposed acquisition. To carry this out on ground would also be a huge, challenging and a truly gigantic task.
Having a wider perspective on development and a legal mandate keeping fertile, irrigated and multi-crop land out of bounds for compulsory acquisition are also in the larger national interest.
Resettlement and Rehabilitation of affected people made mandatory
A path breaking feature of this proposed draft Bill is a provision for resettlement and rehabilitation of affected families whenever there would be displacement thus giving such people a much needed legal right. The definition of ‘affected family’ has been enlarged to include landless families of agriculture labourer or artisans dependent on such land for their primary source of livelihood along with the land owners. The operating word is ‘loss of primary source of livelihood’ for anybody to claim benefit. It remains to be seen as to how the government would determine in a judicious and fair manner, the people, who are dependent upon the land which is proposed to be acquired for their livelihood.
Indiscriminate use of urgency clause stemmed
Urgency can now be invoked only in specified cases of defence of India or national security or for any emergencies arising out of natural calamities and it is also mandated that the powers under this section by the government should be used in rarest of rare cases.
Potential escalation in land price after acquisition to be shared for ten years
LARR Bill ensures that the original owners of the land are given their due share of appreciation in the value that the acquired land has seen after acquisition. As per the proposed mandate 20% of the price difference between the acquisition cost and the consideration received by the government duly adjusting the development costs and thereafter for every transaction for a period of 10 years from the date of award needs to shared with persons whose land was acquired. A fund is envisaged to be set up for this purpose by the collector.
Definition of public purpose is not adequately strengthened
In the LARR Bill the clause ‘for any other purpose useful to the general public’ renders the entire exercise of defining ‘public purpose’ categorically, futile. This clause has the potential to be misused by the government especially when there are no criteria or guidelines to determine as to what constitutes ‘useful to general public’.
Consent of 80% people before acquisition by private parties
Bill authorises the government to acquire land for private companies for carrying on any business or industrial activity, but only if at least 80 per cent of the project affected people have given their consent through a prior informed process to such private party. This precondition would affect industrial development as to get consent of 80% of the project affected people is a very stringent and difficult condition to fulfil especially keeping in mind the small size of the land holding in most part of the country and the sheer number of people one would have to deal with.
LARR Bill ensures that the original owners of the land are given their due share of appreciation in the value that the acquired land has seen after acquisition.
Resettlement and Rehabilitation schemes may be termed unfair
There is a list of 25 infrastructure amenities that have to be provided at the resettlement area by the project developer irrespective of whether they existed at the time of acquisition in that area or not. This provision definitely is overkill and would inflate the cost of the project unfairly for which the land is being acquired. The project proponent would not like to be burdened with responsibility to provide facilities which were not available to people in the first place.
Change in grievance appraisal system
The LARR Bill envisages establishment of a State Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Dispute Settlement Authority and a similar authority at the national level for land acquired by the central government. In the new scheme of things reference can be made to these authorities against the award of the collector. This apparently is being done to ensure speedy disposal and adjudication by a bench consisting of a judicial member and 2 other people having background in general administration and law department of the government.
Given the historical experience in similar situations where special fora and courts were set up to deal with special subject matters, this change is not likely to make any significant difference. Instead of creating multiplicity of institutional framework we can concentrate on strengthening and empowering the existing judicial system.
Determination of market value and computation of compensation
If we look at the factors that need to be taken in to consideration by the collector while evaluating the land they are exactly the same as in the existing law . However in LARR Bill the market value has to be multiplied by a factor of 3 in case of land being acquired in rural areas which will make the actual compensation 6 times the market value and in turn would make the compensation just and fair. No such factor has been mentioned for the urban areas.
We hope for a healthy, insightful and broad based debate in which all stakeholders and people from across the entire spectrum participate in the coming few days so that the LARR Bill can be made as comprehensive as possible.