Land Bill gets new name and many amendments

States get freedom to decide whether land under multi-crop is to be acquired

By Richard Mahapatra
Published: Friday 30 August 2013

image The Lok Sabha on Thursday night passed the new land acquisition and rehabilitation and resettlement Bill which replaces a nearly 120 years old law that governs land acquisition for “public purpose”. Many of the contentious issues relating to land acquisition like whether land should be acquired or leased out to private players and whether multi-crop lands should be acquired or not have now been left to the discretion of state governments. Land is a state subject but land acquisition is in the concurrent list of the Constitution.

The Bill proposes compensation of up to four times the market value to farmers and landowners for land acquired in rural areas and two times the market value in urban areas. Besides, it has suggested new definitions or limited the scope of key provisions like “public purpose” and the “emergency clause” in the Land Acquisition Act of 1894.

In a rare parliamentary practice, Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh moved the debate over the Bill with 158 amendments to the draft introduced in 2011. Altogether, nearly 400 amendments were moved. The vote on the Bill on Thursday was preceded by close to two years of intense consultations and parliamentary debates. Most of the amendments raised by the government side are proposals received during this period of consultations.

Given the political patronage the Bill has from Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and the UPA's agenda of legislating on various entitlements, the first amendment to the Bill was for changing its name. It is now called “Right to Fair Compensation and Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill”. Rajnath Singh, a key leader of the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and who started the 11-hour-long debate over the Bill, started his speech by praising this first change to indicate that the party was going to vote in favour of the Bill.

Key points of debate

The debate revolved around two key clauses: what type of land is to be acquired and what mechanism is to be adopted—ownership acquisition or lease. The amendment brought in by the government has given the power to the state government to decide whether it wants to take land on lease or acquire ownership. This change came after many states pointed out that the Central government couldn't finalise modality of land acquisition. Similarly, on the issue of whether multi-crop agricultural land should be acquired or not, the Bill suggests this as last resort.

“But how much of such land is to be acquired and what procedures are to be adopted in such cases have been left to the discretion of the state government,” said the rural development minister. States have the freedom now to decide and even completely stop acquisition of multi-crop agricultural lands. Earlier, during consultations with state governments, chief ministers of Haryana, Punjab and Kerala wrote to Ramesh, opposing any prohibition on taking over multi-crop lands in the Bill, citing their respective states have more such land, thus making land acquisition difficult.

It was a smooth sail for the government as suggestions of most political parties and state government were brought in as amendments by the government. All key parties acknowledged Ramesh's “hard work” to make the Bill “acceptable”. Even leader of Opposition Susmma Swaraj asked the house to thump the desk for the minister.    

But not all welcomed the Bill. Supriya Sule of Nationalist Congress Party and daughter of Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar raised the issue of investment becoming expensive because of the new provisions of compensations. Industrial houses have been opposing the provisions of compensation citing this reason.

“In a place like Mumbai it will be very expensive to acquire land and to implement development programmes. We understand the interests of the farmers but they should also consider the interests of other sides,” she said. On the other hand, Mulayam Singh Yadav of Samajwadi Party that supports the government from outside said that agricultural land should not be acquired at all.

A selection of related reports and documents on Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill

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