The Economic Times, New Delhi: Government was today under attack from NGOs and farmer organisations over the contentious land acquisition bill with activist Medha Patkar leading the protest against changes brought in 2013 land law of UPA.
Several organisations, including National Alliance for Farmers Movement (NAFM), All India Coordination Committee of Farmers, Bhartiya Kisan Union (A) and Shetkari Sangathan, made their representation before the Joint Committee of Parliament going into the issue on the fourth day of consultations.
Citing the “experiences” from Narmada Valley Projects, in particular Sardar Sarovar Project of Gujarat, Patkar made a strong pitch for not only retaining the ‘Social Impact Assessment’ and ‘Consent’ clauses of Land Acquisition Act, 2013 but even “expanding” their ambit, sources said.
Maintaining that SIA and Consent are crucial and these cannot be excluded for any category of projects, Patkar, who represented the National Alliance of People’s Movements, said every project initiated and proposed either by a state agency or from within a community, whether governmental project or a private plan, must pass through these two criteria.
“Narmada experience shows how without the two preconditions the project like Sardar Sarovar was pushed without a full or good plan and people’s sanction, inevitably leading to controversies that continue to affect the project till date,” she said.
The NAPM demanded mandatory ‘free prior informed consent’ of gram/basti or ward sabha, following the spirit of Article 243 of the Constitution for any kind of land acquisition developed by government corporation, private corporation or through PPP mode.
It also said that scope of seeking consent from land owners should be expanded to include public purpose projects implemented and developed by the government and not only be limited to the private projects and PPP projects.
Flagging the threat to multi-crop irrigated in particular and cultivable lands in general, the organisation demanded that there should not be any acquisition of agricultural land, single or multi-cropped land by the government for infrastructure projects and in case of emergency situation, a similar amount of compensatory land must be developed elsewhere.
The NAFM made nine suggestions to the panel including land for land, house for house and employment for employment arrangements in rehabilitation of those affected by the land acquisition. It demanded that the suggestions should be incorporated in the new land bill of NDA.
The NAFM also suggested that land acquisition law should be structured in a manner in which the land of farmers is taken on land and they are given a share of profit and enactment of a law to ensure that land with ongoing farming activities are not acquired.
Another organisation Society for Justice, which made its presentation before the committee, said that government of India should carry out a survey to identify waste or barren or desert land or land already acquired and not put to use either by the government or by the private entity concerned and create a “Land Bank” to plan future development.
Patkar, the Narmada Bachao Andolan activist, also opposed the proposed amendments in the land ordinance to the clause permitting penal action against officers responsible for legal violations be it – denial of rehabilitation, faulty surveys, corrupt practices, fraud in land acquisition, submission of false reports in affidavits etc.
She said that the proposed amendment which necessitates previous sanction of the government concerned before action is initiated is the only a step to ensure that no officer, howsoever culpable, is ever held accountable for his/her omissions/commissions and demanded that the government should reject this amendment summarily, the sources said.
The NAPM also opposed the back door entry of various private and non-welfare projects in the name of infrastructure development and demanded that public purpose needs to be very strictly and scrupulously defined.
The representatives of the NGOs and farmer organisations said that the Land Ordinance brought forth by NDA government completely negates the spirit of the 2013 Act and takes it back to the 1894 provisions.
Expressing “deep anguish and disagreement” with the approach of the present government to “dilute and defeat” the minimal progressive provisions of the 2013 land law, they said that the “U-turn” by NDA government is indeed a “regressive measure” and an assault on the democratic structures and parliamentary process of the country.
The farmer bodies and the NGOs also rejected the government’s claim that procedural difficulties in the acquisition of land for important national projects needed to be mitigated and hence changes were required and sought exemption from consent and social impact assessment in five categories.
The panel had earlier sent a questionnaire related to the provisions of the ordinance to the witnesses so that they can give their views on all the relevant points concerning the bill.