AMENDMENTS (March 9th) TO THE ANTI-FARMER BILL ARE DEFECTIVE: REJECT THOSE!
March 10th, 2015
It is a welcome that there is an intense debate in the parliament since yesterday on the land acquisition bill based on the ordinance that Modi government had tried to impose on the farmer, laborers and other people of this country. However, with a belief that it can confuse the politicians as they might be unaware of the nitty-gritty of the Bill vis-à-vis 2013 Act, the Government is trying to sell deceptive changes with no real review nor regret!
The amendments suggested in the Bill by the ruling party cannot resolve the conflict over the fact that the basic parameters and the pre-conditions towards making the development planning process somewhat democratic, are to be deleted from the 2013 Act.
First and the foremost, the amendments suggest that the ‘social infrastructure projects’ would be excluded from the Act and arena for forcible acquisition. This anyway had to be done since the private hospitals and educational institutions are now known to be profiteering institutions with politicians and other elites as investors having clear vested interests. What is being concealed is the fact that ‘Infrastructure’ as defined in the 2013 Act itself is so widely defined as per the notification of Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance that it would include all projects of transport (roads and bridges ports, airports etc.), power, oil and gas, water and irrigation; etc. To exclude these from the applicability of SIA and consent clause itself is diluting 2013 Act. It may be noted that the lack of SIA has always been causing lack of planning of R&R which 2013 Act tried to correct. There is no going back on the SIA and consent parameters, which are being changed through the Bill.
Second, the mere promise that the waste land would be mapped does not mean anything in the face of an absolutely unjustifiable deletion of the clause of 2013 Act, to restrict acquisition of multiple crop land to a certain extent, that too defined by state government, which provided at least partial guarantee for Food Security. The mapping will not necessarily lead to either exclusion of agricultural land or being given the highest priority. The amendment only suggests that the government will only ensure that the extent of land to be acquired is the minimum required for the project. What are the parameters for deciding the minimum and who will decide it? The vagueness will defeat the purpose for sure.
Third, the promise of allotment of a job per displaced person has always remained non-complied with, even when it was a promise in the case of many projects. With there being thousands of unemployed in each area already , how can one believe that this promise will be kept? Even where there is a legal provision towards this, as in the case of Maharashtra Rehabilitation of Project Affected Persons Act, 1976, (amend upto 1999) there is hardly any compliance. In 2013 Act itself job offer is with IFs and BUTs and provisions are not fully mandatory, how can the amendment in this aspect be acceptable ? The CAG’s report on the SEZ projects is a stark comment on how after much pooh-poohing of the jobs to be created through these projects which those have not. If there are no jobs created by a project, beyond temporary jobs that may be available, where will the job be provided? As an option a family may get just Rs. 2000 (plus price index based allowances) per month or Rs. 5, 00,000 as one time grant.
Fourth, does the claim that the acquisition of land only for the government agencies, mean that there will be no forcible acquisition for the private or PPP projects? Let the proponents clarify this.
We have always demanded consent clause for the government projects as well, it may be noted.
Fifth, another bluff seems to be the assurance that on each side of the national highways and railway there would be land acquisition upto 1 kilometer. Will 1 KM in width and unknown length bring into the fold, a small chunk of land? Will it not affect thousands of farmers or other property owners, and transfer the crores of Rupees worth property? What purpose would it serve and who would benefit from the same? Without clarifying all this and much more, the projects cannot be pushed ahead. Why exclude these projects from SIA and consent clause?
Sixth, the amendments cleverly exclude the Industrial Corridor projects, wherein the largest magnitude of land is going to be first transferred from agricultural to industrial category and then followed by acquisition. The Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor has already targeted 3,90,000 hectares of land for the first phase itself, much of which is under cultivation. By excluding industrial corridor category from applicability of Consent and SIA clauses in the 2013 Act, the Bill promotes forcible acquisition therein. The Union of India has already entered into an agreement with the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC). There are not less than 7 such corridors. The present government wishes to legitimize such transfer without consent. The amendment merely suggests that they will acquire limited land for any industrial corridor and that too, mostly for the government project. This, however, cannot be the case unless the government changes the projects of Corridors already planned.
Last but not the least, there is no change in exclusion of the consent clause; keeping the period for return of utilized land open; amendment that there would be grievance redressal authority; as also the need for seeking approval of the head of the department or the state government before filing any case against the officer violating the Act!
It is obvious, therefore, that the amendment to the Bill is just an eyewash while we are demanding a clean slate to be brought in by repealing the Bill and then initiate further discussion to strengthen 2013 Act, making it further pro-farmer and pro-people.