Published On : Wed, Feb 25th, 2015

The New Land Acquisition Bill – is it wrong or is it aimed at correcting wrongs?

land

Though it is in vogue now to dismiss all of Rahul’s actions as a Congressman negatively and think of him as a loser – specially since the brutal Arnab Goswami interview – fact is he has notched up some remarkable achievements too, one of them, according to his supporters in the Congress party was bringing in the original Land Acquisition Bill and getting it passed in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. That is one of the reasons his party is missing in this session of the Parliament because the bill is back again with some contentious changes that the Modi government wants to bring in.But on the other hand, was that bill really that sacroscant that it had no scope for improvement ?

The whole opposition has found a cause to unite on like a monolith against these amendments. Even the RSS is opposing it – so are many farmer lobbies and environmental groups. What is the change that is causing so much turmoil and unrest among people?

Speaking at Jantar Mantar yesterday where Anna and Kejriwal were finally united the CM of Delhi said that
“if the bill gets passed with the changes mooted, Government will become an agent of big industrialists and businessmen – they can just take your land ( meaning the farmers’) and ‘allot’ it to them.”

The issues that seem to be troubling Mulayam Singh Yadav of Uttar Pradesh is the agricultural lands that have already been diverted to industry and infra structure development over the years. With such large tracts of fertile lands diverted for highways, SEZs, dams, mines etc. how are we going to feed india’s burgeoning population? We are no more good grain surplus and have to import already.

However the government, despite all the pressure is most reluctant to give and make the changes suggested as then it will be no different than the original bill that has Rahul Gandhi written all over it.

At Tuesday’s BJP parliamentary meeting Modi urged MPs to counter the criticism and explain the bill’s provisions to their voters.

The most significant alteration, brought in by route of ordinance already, is the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013. It was aimed at as a course correction of the UPA bill which was deemed restrictive by industriialists’ lobby. It has
caused apprehensions that the landless rural poor who cultivate lands but are not the owners will be left with no rights , either to the land they till or any compensation if it is required for any non agricultural project.

Removal of consent clause and Social Impact Assessment

The government has amended Section 10(A) of the Act to expand sectors where assessment and consent will not be required. For five sectors, the consent clause has been removed. So the government or private individuals/companies will no longer need mandatory 80% consent for land acquisition in those five sectors. According to Arun Jaitley, the mandatory “consent” clause and Social Impact Assessment (SIA) will not be applicable if the land is acquired for national security, defence, rural infrastructure including electrification, industrial corridors and housing for the poor including PPP where ownership of land continues to be vested with the government.

Jaitley said that rehabilitation and resettlement packages will be available as per the new Land Acquisition act. What Jaitley didn’t mention was that by omitting the social assessment part, the government in essence has got away with a very important hurdle. In the earlier law, the assessment was meant to find out how many people will be impacted. So apart from the land owner, all those who are dependent on the land also needed to be compensated. But the new ordinance ensures that only land owners will be compensated.

Also whether the land is fertile or not will also not be taken into consideration while acquiring it for these five specific sectors. Thus even if the land is extremely fertile like it was the case in Singur, it can be acquired if it fits the criterion of these five sectors, no question asked.

The government on the other hand insists that it a ‘pro farmer’ step because compensation ( that will be given to owners) needs to quantified and rehabilitation done within a specified time frame.

There are so many notions, misconceptions and interpretations of the new Bill that we are reproducing the FAQs about this as put out by the government. Readers can go through and make their own decisions.