The story so far
Land acquisition, which refers to the process of a government forcibly acquiring private property for public purpose, has been the cause of over a third of the legal conflicts in India in the past decade. These range from tribal groups fighting private companies over land being acquired for mining and industrial projects, to farmers and environmentalists entangled in bitter battles with state governments over their lands being taken for building highways or submerged by a proposed dam. The process of land acquisition in India has been marked by violence and tedious legal disputes that tend to stretch over years. With the increasing pace of liberalisation and privatisation in India, the Indian government is finding it increasingly difficult to maintain the delicate balance between stimulating growth and extending the benefits of development to multiple stakeholders.
Apart from the ideological questions surrounding land acquisition, a major problem with the issue in India is that for all the contestations and disputes that arise over it, the government continues to lean on the archaic colonial-era Land Acquisition Act 1894. The 1894 Act does not provide for rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R), which is governed by a separate National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy, 2007. The new Bill will replace the 1984 Act and establish a process for land acquisition that involves a Social Impact Assessment survey, preliminary notification stating the intent for acquisition, a declaration of acquisition, and compensation to be given by a certain time. All acquisitions will also require rehabilitation and resettlement to be provided to the people affected by the acquisition.
Tracking the Bill
The Bill was first introduced in the Parliament in September 2011 and was referred to a Parliamentary Standing Committee, which submitted its recommendations in May 2012. But due to differences within the government, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh constituted a Group of Ministers (GoM) in September 2012 to formulate a consolidated draft of the Bill. The GoM, headed by Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, approved the draft in October 2012, after which it was sent to the Cabinet again. After a mammoth 157 amendments, the Bill is now expected to be reintroduced in the Lok Sabha second half of the Budget Session, which begins on April 22.
Ironically, the new Bill has met with protests not only from industrialists across India, but also farmers and land activists. India Inc. is worried by the significantly higher costs of compensation as well as the stringent R&R requirements the new Bill poses for those interested in acquiring land for industrial purposes. On the other hand, farmers and civil rights activists have deemed the draft Bill “pro-corporate and pro-investors” and demanded radical changes in the Bill citing economic and food security reasons.
With the 2014 national elections in sight, the provisions of the Bill will most certainly remain in the limelight and make for yet another heated debate in the Parliament.
Will the Indian government be able to achieve the fine balance between promoting industrial growth and ensuring the rights of landowners through the new Land Acquisition Bill? We spoke to Chakshu Roy, Legislator and Citizen Engagement Initiatives Lead at PRS Legislative Research; and Madhuresh Kumar, National Organiser at the Alliance of People’s Movements to bring you TWO VIEWS.
Chakshu Roy heads the outreach team and leads the legislator and citizen engagement initiatives at PRS Legislative Research. He joined PRS in 2006 and has been involved in setting up the state laws project, training civil society and journalist groups about tracking Parliament.
Chakshu Roy: The government has a key role to play in ensuring the protection of the rights of people whose land is acquired while ensuring that land is made available for public purposes as well. However, opinion remains divided on the subject as to what constitutes ‘public purpose’. Violent protests in the past in states like Orissa, West Bengal and Maharashtra indicate that there are strong sentiments when it comes to the question of alienation of land.
The solution lies in a robust legislation that maintains a balance between social good and economic development and which is effectively implemented. In its absence, like the current scenario, non-availability of adequate land will continue to be one of the reasons for delay in infrastructure projects. The Land Acquisition Bill, 2011 is quite contentious. The Parliamentary Standing Committee, which scrutinised the Bill, had recommended that the government should not be acquiring land for use by private companies and public private partnerships (PPPs). Under the new Bill, private companies and PPPs require the consent of 80 percent and 70 percent, respectively, of the people affected to acquire land. Moreover, no such consent is required in the case of public sector units.
The most recent amendments to the Bill have also widened the scope for acquisition of land for public purpose to include mining and infrastructure projects. A few other key issues also continue to plague the new Bill. First, it is still unclear whether the Parliament has jurisdiction to impose rehabilitation and resettlement requirements on private purchase of agricultural land. Secondly, the requirement of a Social Impact Assessment for every acquisition without a minimum threshold may delay the implementation of numerous government programmes. The Bill also allows the government to temporarily acquire land for a period of three years without any provision for rehabilitation and resettlement in such cases.Finally, the compensation requirement for land acquisition also raises numerous questions.
The compensation amount for land acquired under the new Bill is double the average market value of the land in urban areas, which is calculated using recently-reported transactions. The amount of compensation also increases depending on how far the said land is from urban centres, going up to four times in rural areas. A possible reason for this could be to compensate for under reporting of the transacted price in registration deeds. However, this may not provide an accurate estimation of the value of land. The Bill has also left quite a few contentious issues for states to decide on their own.While the government has listed this Bill for consideration and passing in its legislative agenda for the current Budget Session of the Parliament, reports vary on the consensus that might be possible. At the end of the day, what is needed is a law that is beneficial to both the people and the growth of the nation. How the Bill actually plays out on the ground depends on a number of factors, the most important of which is quality and spirit of implementation of the law.
Madhuresh Kumar is the National Organiser of the National Alliance of People’s Movements. He is based out of New Delhi and is responsible for campaigns and policy advocacy around community control over land, water, forest, and minerals as well as resource mobilisation and co-ordination for the Alliance.
Madhuresh Kumar: The Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011 is the government’s effort at addressing the problems in the 1894 Land Acquisition Act, which is not only completely outdated, but has only promoted forcible land acquisition across the country. Land acquisition in India continues to take place without any resettlement and rehabilitation, drastically affecting not only people who lose their land, but also those who lose their livelihood.
The National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) feels that while the new Bill is an improvement over the 1894 Act, there remain key issues. Many of these issues were addressed by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Bill, but remain neglected by the government.One important recommendation made by the Standing Committee was that the government should not be acquiring land for private players. But the government has refused this recommendation, saying that it is ideologically committed to private companies playing a larger role in the development of the nation. Under 1894 Act, the government was not legally mandated to acquire land for private corporations and PPP projects. This new Bill will legitimise that. This is our fundamental problem with the Bill: why should the government become a middle-man for private corporations?
Secondly, the 1894 Act works on the principle of eminent domain, which is the power of the state to seize private property without the owners’ consent. That framework has still not been changed in the new Bill. And when you look at the current framework of development when it comes to sectors like power, roadways, railways and industrial sectors, you see that the government is handing them to private players. As the state tries to acquire more land for private companies, there will be more and more conflict. Farmers have nothing else to depend on, and even if they get some resettlement and rehabilitation, it is not enough for their future generations.
Thirdly, there remains serious concern about food security in the country. Land is a critically limited resource in India. If we do not put a cap on the diversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes, this will very soon create severe food and water shortages in the time to come. The Parliamentary Standing Committee has clearly said that the government should not be acquiring any agricultural land, whether irrigated or not. The government is saying that it will only not acquire multi-crop land, but we are saying that it is single-crop land that is most often held by marginalised farmers, who are most in need of protection for economic and food security reasons.Lastly, while the government says that the new Bill has better rehabilitation and resettlement clauses, it does not provide the losers of land with sustainable livelihood options. The number of people who face a loss of livelihood because of acquisition is so huge that it cannot be accommodated within the industrial and services sectors. So, while we are pushing people out of agriculture forcibly, are we creating any educational or technical alternatives for them?The State is acquiring land in the name of public purpose and industrial growth, but we need to rethink how we define development. We have to acknowledge that India is a country of 1.2 billion people. The kind of development the government is promoting caters to only the top 20 percent of the population.The government is revising the 1894 Act after 120 years, which gives it a historic opportunity to change how acquisition takes place in the country. We should not lose this chance to create a policy that ensures that India’s citizens are made participants in the development planning of the nation.
Submitted on Thu, 04/18/2013 – 17:03 http://www.igovernment.in/node/44722