Land Acuistion Bill — Arocky road ahead
Land Acquisition Bill.. Why it kicks up so much dust
Dispossessing a tiller of his piece of land has remained a highly contentious process in all societies, in all ages and in all countries. The farmer braves the elements to till his land and raise crops to feed himself and sale the surplus to buy his necessities. In the process, other sections of the society get fed. Taking away land from the farmer disrupts such a symbiotic relationship. It brings extreme distress to the farmers as they lose their means of livelihood. The sentimental bond of the ‘son of the soil’ with his land is very strong. Losing the land his forefathers tilled is revolting proposition for the humble farmer who resists the authority of the ruling class with all his might.
Farmers in countries around the globe such as Mexico, China, Nigeria, Egypt, Indonesia etc. have fought bitter wars with their governments precisely for the same reason for which the Indian farmers are up in arms against their governments.
In India, the anti-acquisition stir has raged for decades. In the last three or four decades, this single issue has been used by politicians to garner support of the farming class. Depending upon whether they are in government or in the opposition, Indian politicians either sing the praise of or spew venom against the idea of land acquisition. Such parochial thinking has clouded the national debate and needlessly made sections of the farmers belligerent and uncompromising. In the process, land acquisition for larger public interest has got mired in a cobweb of controversies.
Land Acquisition in British India was always an one-sided process. The colonial government, citing government necessities, could acquire any amount of land anywhere without paying any compensation and without having to cite any reasons for doing so. Such draconian power was vested in the government by the 1894 Land Acquisition Act. The farmers seethed against the practice, but could not militate against it. In a colonized, they were too feeble for any protest.
Salient features of the 1894 Land Acquisition Act …
1. It empowered the government to acquire any amount of land anywhere and from any owner.
2. The process was simple and quick for the administration. Only a simple notification was enough.
3. The government did not have to disclose why it was acquiring the land and why so much land was needed. Obviously, there was no need for prior consultation with the land owners to obtain their consent.
4. The government’s action could not be challenged in a court of law.
5. The government could hold on to the land indefinitely without utilizing it for its purported use. It could even sale it off at a later date to anyone it chose, for any undisclosed price. At times, the British officials did this much to the annoyance of the original owners.
6. No compensation was payable legally to the owners whose lands were taken passion of.
In effect, the 1894 Act gave sweeping, arbitrary powers to the government. It was a blatantly draconian and oppressive legislation. Quite curiously, the Act continued to be in vogue even in independent India. When land acquisitions by government and large private companies for infrastructure, development and industrialization became more frequent, public discontent grew. Farmers got organized to agitate against the acquisitions. In many cases, aggrieved land owners approached courts demanding fair compensation and even roll-back of the acquisition process. To add to the confusion, political parties took divergent positions and courts gave incoherent verdicts. What followed was a plethora of court cases, violent agitations, long debates in parliament, delays in project implementation by both government and private parties, and corruption. The situation warranted reforms.
The Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2007
Issues relating to the quantity and basis of compensation paid by government to those whose land is acquired almost invariably led to discontent among the landowners, be it farmers or otherwise. There was need for clear and transparent legislation that could ensure fair, quick and adequate compensation to the beneficiaries. The intent of the above Bill was to specify a process by which people could be compensated fairly, justly and quickly. The Bill also had clauses that specified the minimum levels of compensation that governments must pay to the land-losers.
Sadly, it had no clause to make it obligatory for the government to resettle the people who were going to part with their lands. This created a lot of disappointment. This apart, the steps to be taken for the welfare of the displaced people were mentioned as mere suggestions, and not as binding commitments on the government.
The Bill stipulates that for projects that caused large scale displacement, the government shall conduct a Social Impact Assessment. An Administrator for Rehabilitation and Resettlement was to be appointed. His job would be formulation, execution and monitoring of the rehabilitation and resettlement of the displaced persons.
The Bill outlined the minimum benefits for displaced families and the criteria to be adopted for eligibility. Benefits could be through allotment of alternate land, house, award of monetary compensation, imparting skills training and preference for jobs.
The Bill envisaged creation of Ombudsman to address the grievances of the affected people pertaining to the rehabilitation and resettlement process. Civil courts were barred from entertaining any suits related to this matter.
A step forward towards social justice ….
The Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011
The Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011 was introduced in the Lok Sabha by the Minister for Rural Development on September 7, 2011. As a result of long acrimonious debate it caused and also due to the huge implications of the bill for farmers and land owners, the Bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Rural Development under the Chairpersonship of Ms. Sumitra Mahajan.
Highlights of the Bill
The Bill provides for the procedures to be followed for land acquisition as well as rehabilitation and resettlement. It supersedes the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.
1. For the first time, conducting a Social Impact Survey was made mandatory of the land acquisition process.
2. At the very outset, the primary intent of the acquisition had to be spelt out through a notification.
3.The payment of compensation had to be quantified and it had to be disbursed within a certain time limit.
4. All acquisitions had to be followed by rehabilitation and resettlement of the affected people.
5. Compensation for the land owners who are dispossessed had to be four times the market value in case of rural areas and double in case of urban areas.
6. In case of acquisition of land for use by private companies or public private partnerships (PPPs), consent of 80 per cent of the displaced people will have to be obtained.
7. Purchase of large pieces of land by private companies will also make it compulsory for the acquirers to provide for rehabilitation and resettlement of the affected people.
8.The provisions of this Bill was not meant for acquisitions under 16 existing legislations including the Special Economic Zones Act, 2005, the Atomic Energy Act, 1962, the Railways Act, 1989, etc.
Key Issues and Analysis
1. It is not clear whether Parliament has the authority to impose rehabilitation and resettlement requirements on private purchase of agricultural land.
2.The requirement of a Social Impact Assessment for every acquisition was going to be a long-drawn process leading to inordinate delay in land acquisition and the proposed venture.
3. Projects involving land acquisition and undertaken by private companies or public private partnerships require the consent of 80 per cent of the people affected. However, the PSUs were exempted from this provision.
4.The market value is based on recent reported transactions. This value is doubled in rural areas to arrive at the compensation amount. This method may not lead to an accurate computation of compensation as many land sales do not show the actual value.
5.The government can temporarily acquire land for a maximum period of three years. There is no provision for rehabilitation and resettlement in such cases.
The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill, 2015
The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill, 2015 was introduced in the Lok Sabha by the Minister for Rural Development, Mr. Birender Singh on February 24, 2015.
The Bill modifies certain stipulations of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (LARR Act, 2013).
Features of the bill …
- The Bill replaces the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Ordinance, 2014.
- The LARR Act, 2013 outlines the process to be followed when land is acquired for a public purpose.
- The LARR Act, 2013 exempted 13 laws (such as the National Highways Act, 1956 and the Railways Act, 1989) from its purview. However, the LARR Act,2013 required that the compensation, rehabilitation, and resettlement provisions of these 13 laws be brought in agreement with the LARR Act, 2013.
- It was to be done through a notification within a year of its enactment. (By January 1, 2015). The Bill brings the compensation, rehabilitation, and resettlement provisions of these 13 laws in line with the LARR Act, 2013.
- The Bill creates five special categories of land use: (i) Defence, (ii) Rural Infrastructure, (iii) Affordable Housing (iv) Industrial Corridors, and (v) infrastructure projects including Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects where the government owns the land.
- The LARR Act, 2013 requires that the consent of 80% of land owners is obtained for private projects. For PPP projects, consent of 70% of land owners is to be obtained. The Bill exempts the five categories mentioned above from this provision of the Act.
- In addition, the Bill empowers the government to exempt projects in these five categories from the following provisions, through a notification:
(i) The LARR Act, 2013 requires that a Social Impact Assessment be conducted to identify affected families and calculate the social impact when land is acquired.
(ii) The LARR Act, 2013 imposes certain restrictions on the acquisition of irrigated multi-cropped land and other agricultural land. For example, irrigated multi-cropped land cannot be acquired beyond the limit specified by the appropriate government.
- Return of unutilized land: The LARR Act, 2013 required land acquired under it which remained unutilized for five years, to be returned to the original owners or the land bank.
The Bill states that the period after which unutilized land will need to be returned will be: (i) five years, or (ii) any period specified at the time of setting up the project, whichever is later.
- The LARR Act 2013 states that the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 will continue to apply in certain cases, where an award has been made under the 1894 Act.
However, if such an award was made five years or more before the enactment of the LARR Act, 2013, and the physical possession of land has not been taken or compensation has not been paid, the LARR Act, 2013 will apply.
- The Bill states that in calculating this time period, any period during which the proceedings of acquisition were held up: (i) due to a stay order of a court, or (ii) a period specified in the award of a Tribunal for taking possession, or (iii) any period where possession has been taken but the compensation is lying deposited in a court or any account, will not be counted.
- The LARR Act,2013 excluded the acquisition of land for private hospitals and private educational institutions from its purview. The Bill removes this restriction.
- While the LARR Act, 2013was applicable for the acquisition of land for private companies, the Bill changes this to acquisition for ‘private entities’. A private entity is
an entity other than a government entity, and could include a proprietorship, partnership, company, corporation, non-profit organization, or other entity under any other law.
- The LARR Act, 2013 stated that if an offence is committed by the government, the head of the department would be deemed guilty unless he could show that the offence was committed without his knowledge, or that he had exercised due diligence to prevent the commission of the offense.
The Bill replaces this provision and states that if an offense is committed by a government official, he cannot be prosecuted without the prior sanction of the government.
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