Land bill gets diluted on way to Parliament

Bill provisions now favour government and industry, not farmers, say activists

 
By Moyna
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

On September 7, a draft of the Land Acquisition and Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill of 2011was tabled in Parliament which was different from the one published in July for public comments. The changes in the draft now seem to favour agencies acquiring land rather than the land owners. Certain features offering safeguards and better compensation to farmers have been diluted, say activists.



Contentious changes

Compensation: The July draft recommended that compensation of land acquired in rural areas ought to be six times the circle rates and twice the circle rates in case of urban areas. The draft in Parliament says the compensation in rural areas will be thrice the circle rates and keeps it same in case of urban areas.

Acquisition of irrigated land: The July draft said no irrigated multi-crop land could be acquired. The draft submitted to Parliament says five per cent of irrigated multi-crop land can be acquired in any district.

Provision relating to land unused after acquisition: The July draft said if land is not used for five years after acquisition, it is to be returned to the land owner. The changed draft says if the land is not used for 10 years then it will go into the government land bank. The July draft does not mention acquired land being added to government land bank. Public purpose: Definition of public purpose now also includes land for private companies and public-private partnership projects for production of public goods or provision of public services. The July draft only provided for the acquisition of land for private companies for public purpose alone. And the September version provides for acquisition of land for institutions, residential complexes, which were not there in the July version.

The overhaul of the Land Acquisition Act of 1894, presently in force, was long overdue and has been publicly debated in recent years. Discussions on government's land and resettlement and rehabilitation policy intensified in the wake of violent struggles against land acquisition in Uttar Pradesh earlier this year (Read: Road to Disaster' and 'Bias in the law'). The new draft bill for land acquisition was touted as one of Congress-led UPA government's major achievements; it was meant to provide a resolution to past and future struggles against land acquisitions as seen in Singur in West Bengal, and the Vedanta and POSCO projects in Odisha (Read Is the new Bill up to the mark).

Cautioning against the misuse of the proposed law, senior advocate and human rights activist Usha Ramanathan says, “The current drafts are fundamentally different from the 1894 act. While the Land acquisition Act of 1894 was meant to put restrictions on the land acquiring authority the current draft is meant to 'facilitate land acquisition' as stated in the preamble.” Though abused and misused, the 1894 Act did not perceive land as just a commodity in the market, which the current draft of the bill, meant to replace the ancient Act, does, she says while adding, “bringing the Panchayat (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act and Forest Rights Act under the purview of the land acquisition Act is a dangerous step.”

Compensation reduced by one-third

One of the main criticisms of the current version of this draft is the reduction of compensation to the farmers. The July draft recommended increasing compensation to six times the registered value of a property in rural areas and two times the registered value in case of urban areas. But the bill submitted to Parliament has reduced it by one-third in rural areas, leaving the compensation amount unchanged in urban areas. Harsh Mander, member of the National Advisory Council says: “Many changes have been brought in and though they have not been carried out in consultation with us I feel there are certain considerations under which these have been made.” He adds in the present form, the bill is not specifically in favour of the farmers.

The current draft seems to have been prepared in a hurry as a knee-jerk reaction to the struggles of Uttar Pradesh, say some. Arundhati Dhuru of Lucknow-based non-profit Asha Parivar says: “The main contentious provisions of the 1894 Act relating to 'eminent domain' (it confers government with power to acquire land for public purpose) and 'public purpose' have not been addressed. And that is why this act will not be able to address the core of struggles against land acquisition.” Dhuru adds that while the July draft made provisions to specify public purpose and put in place some checks regarding for whose benefit the land is being used, the current draft just expands the definition of public purpose, to make things easy for private profit-making companies.

Voicing similar concerns, Madhuresh Kumar, one of the organisers of the National Alliance for People's Movements (NAPM), says: “While expanding the definition of public purpose, the current draft has simultaneously expanded the definition of infrastructure as well. This move is bound to work against the interests of the farmers and others dependent on land.” He adds that the expanded definitions put the acquisition of land for a five-star hotel at par with that for a railway track. “The current draft legitimatises everything from potato chips to a textile industry as for 'public interest/welfare',” he says.

Ravi Pragada of the non-profit Samata in Vishakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh says: “Land in a large country like India is varying in quality and access and thus cannot be measured by a single yard-stick. The current act leaves little scope for the regional influences and relevance of land.” According to him the current form of the draft caters more to the large land-owning farmers than the landless or marginal farmers.

Dhuru adds that by diluting public participation in the September version, which was actually touched upon in the July draft, the government is only making way for further dissatisfaction among those whose land is acquired. “Struggles against land acquisition was not just for better compensation. These struggles raise basic questions as to who decides what development is and for whom.”

Ramanathan adds, “As a legal expert, I feel the lack of detailed redressal system or specifications of what happens if the resettlement and rehabilitation provisions are not implemented is catastrophic. There is no accountability.” She says this oversight is only going to lead to people being unable to right any wrong done to them.

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