Business Standard, 15 Sept 2014, New Delhi: A special session of the Rajasthan legislative Assembly has been called on Monday to pass the new Rajasthan Land Acquisition Bill and to endorse the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act.
It will become the first state to ratify the central Bill on the judiciary and to legislate its own land law, superseding the central one. Also, it expects to receive a presidential nod for the new and less stiff state labour laws by the end of this month.
The land Bill, aiming to fast-pace investments in the state, will override the provisions of the central land law passed by the earlier government in Delhi, in 2013. And, many of the provisions hark back to the 1894-vintage Land Acquisition Act, providing greater latitude and discretion to the government. The Bill has taken not only ideas but entire chapters from the 1894 law.
The most blatant case of a copy-paste job is Chapter IX of the new Bill. It’s meant to aid the acquisition of lands for private companies. The clause reads, the government shall not acquire land for a company until, “the purpose of the acquisition is to obtain land for the erection of dwelling houses for workmen employed by the company or for the provision of amenities directly connected therewith”. It’s an exact lift from the Land Acquisition Act of 1894.
So, in fact, is the rest of the entire chapter, clause by clause. The second out of three reasons for reasons why the state can intervene in favour of a company is, “that such acquisition is needed for the construction of some work, which is likely to prove useful to the public”. In the old law, this was clause 40(b) of its Chapter 7.
“Yes, it’s a copy-paste job. And, we are proud of it,” a senior government official told Business Standard. “Since 1894, it has gone through at least a dozen changes and we have taken the latest amended version as the template. Yes, we were in a hurry, as we want to speed up investments in the state.”
Yet, the lifting of provisions from the previous law has been done to such an absurdity that it militates against other clauses of the Bill which support acquisition for private projects and for public-private partnerships (PPPs).
This consent clause is one of two elements the Bill does pick up from the central land law of 2013, from its Section 2, which requires consent of 80 per cent of the affected people for private companies and the consent of 60 per cent for PPP projects. But then it makes an exception for all projects that can be called infrastructure ones. Twenty-five different types of projects are defined as “infrastructure projects”. These include the usual suspects – road, power lines, highways, water supply and telecommunication lines. And then includes schools, colleges, hospitals, housing projects, sports and tourism projects, industrial parks and special economic zones. The 25th category is left open-ended, for the state government to preclude the consent clause from any other project it classifies as infrastructure at a later stage, at its discretion.
The Rajasthan Bill also copies provisions to act against people “obstructing acquisition of land”, making it punishable by up to six months imprisonment or a fine up to Rs 3 lakh. Far more draconian compared to the central law repealed in 2013, which provided for a month of imprisonment or a fine of Rs 500. The language of the provision is a rip-off from section 46 of the repealed legislation.
The senior state official, responding to queries on this, said: “This power we are deriving from the Criminal Procedure Code, which allows us to act against any individual who prevents a public servant from carrying out his duties.”
The Rajasthan law also does away with the need for a social impact assessment and other processes that the state government assesses will save it 18 months on average in acquiring land as compared to the new central one. It also has a relatively whittled compensation and rehabilitation and resettlement package (R&R). The R&R is pinned at a tenth of the calculated compensation amount if the land is acquired for irrigation or protection of forests. It will be 30 per cent for all other projects, with the state government not obliged to keep people close to the original inhabitations. That has been left to the state’s discretion.