Sunday 12 August 2012

Government ignores Parliamentary Committee's Suggestion: Makes Land Acquisition bill further pro-industry

A revised version of the Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement bill 2011 is to be put before the cabinet for approval and there after to be introduced in the monsoon session of the parliament, without incorporating most of the major recommendations made by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development, to which it was referred last year after being tabled in the parliament. While the the pro-corporate media is celebrating the pro-industry provisions like acquiring land for private sector and public private partnership (PPP) projects, relaxing the consent requirement of 80% affected people to 80% of the land owners in case of land acquisition for private sector and PPP projects, and keeping 13 existing acts from the purview of the new legislation, rejecting or diluting the Parliamentary Standing Committee recommendations; various people's movement and people organisations have raised serious concerns and objections on these and various other provisions of the proposed legislation.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee related to the rural development, headed by Ms. Sumitra Mahajan of BJP, to which this bill was referred had taken a pro-people stand in its detailed report (pdf, 220 pages).
In order to appease the corporate further the government has also decided not to make the act retrospective, excluding all the ongoing land acquisition from the purview of the act.  In a joint statement, various organisations have expressed concerns that the Ministry of Rural Development has diluted/rejected the positive stand taken by the standing committee.

Here is the press release:
Amidst all the controversies and conflicts related to Lokpal and Jan Lokpal politics, a very major enactment (in Bill form) is to be tabled before the Cabinet this week for approval and there after tabled in the Monsoon session of the parliament. While this has been in the offing for last many years, people’s movements across the country from farmers to fishworkers, landless workers to Dalits, adivasis as well as urban poor, are closely watching and reacting or responding to every move on the issue: Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation. 
The much awaited new “Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill” has now been renamed “Right to Fair Compensation, Resettlement, Rehabilitation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Bill, 2012 with a claim to better reflect Government’s Commitment towards securing a legal guarantee for the rights of project affected, and ensuring greater transparency in the land acquisition process. It is also claimed that the Bill will ensure, in concert with local institutions of self -government and Gram Sabhas established under the Constitution, a humane, participative, informed, consultative and transparent process for land acquisition.
The Bill has no doubt sought comments and suggestions through the website but limited only till 30 days and no regional or state consultations were held by Ministry for Rural Development as was strongly suggested by NAPM, NFFPFW and many other organisations across the country. This is a kind of disrespect shown to a large number of organisations and millions of people engaged not only in conflict over the issues of land, water, forest minerals or aquatic wealth but also proposing a new, truly democratic, just and sustainable ‘Development Planning Act’ as an alternative since years.
Now that the all party Parliamentary Standing Committee’s report (on Rural Development) on the Bill is out and the Ministry of Rural Development has also made its views / reactions clear and open, we, the people's movements, have taken serious cognizance of the fact that the strong position taken by the Standing Committee on certain critical issues are either diluted or rejected by the Ministry of Rural Development, which is shocking. The Ministry that is supposed to protect the rights and powers of the rural communities has not accepted some of the standing committee recommendations, towards that end, which are presented with our comments, herewith:
Food Security and Agricultural Land Acquisition
1. No forcible acquisition of agricultural land, for non-agricultural purpose including single crop and multi crop land.
• Ministry says only multiple crop land can be excluded.
How can the in-between farms that may be unirrigated, rain fed, single crop be left out, we ask. India has 75% of the agricultural land as rain fed and most of it single cropped. Such land is mostly held by Dalits, Adivasis and marginal farms. Protecting them and all farm land for food security, which comes not from PDS but self sufficient agriculture, is a must!
Acquisition for Private and PPP Projects
2. No forcible acquisition for private projects, or for PPP, which can not to be categorized as public purpose projects.
• Ministry has rejected this and justified this with a provision that consent of 80% of project affected People will be sought before acquisition for any private projects
In this era of neo-liberal economic reforms, private projects with corporate investment and interests are taking a much larger toll of land and other rich natural resources as also uprooting by killing communities which are generations old. This must come to an end and the same can happen only with stopping the State playing a role of facilitator and land dealer. At the cost of the livelihood of the nature based sections and working class section of society, the state can't transfer the most valuable livelihood resources such as land, water to the profiteering bodies in the garb of 'public interest' and 'public purpose'.
Bringing 16 Central Acts Under Purview of this Bill
3. The standing committee has recommended that all 16 central acts should be brought under the purview of the new act, to make all equal before law (Article 14 of the Constitution).
• Ministry of Rural Development wants to exclude 13 out of 16 Acts including Industrial Development Act, Land Acquisition (Mines) Act, National Highways Act and others from the purview of the new act. This means that 90% of the land acquired as on today will continue with injustice and force used, with no change at all.
The standing committee recommendations must be upheld to end brutal unjust acquisition for all projects.
Role and Consent of Gram and Basti Sabha
4. The Committee asks that all studies - SIA, EIA, expert committee appraisal be done in consultation with the gram sabhas and the corresponding reports be made available to the gram sabhas.
• Ministry emphasises that 80% consent of PAFs provision is there in case of linear projects where “consultation”.
Consent and direct involvement of majority of the Gram Sabhas must be there in each and every project, including public projects for public purpose. 80% consent of the project affected population for the private projects alone is not sufficient. Why should the linear projects be left out? If it’s consent of 80% affected, there are to be a number of manipulations that people will have to face. Experiences of 70% consent in Slum Rehabilitation Scheme in Mumbai are quite telling.
Return of Unutilised Land to farmers and Land Bank
5. The Committee recommended that the land, if not used till 5 years, should be returned after 5 years from the date of possession to the land owners.
• Ministry accepts the reduced five years time period but opposes its return to the landowner and suggests it to go to State Land Bank.
The ownership over the land is of those who till it and if not used and unutilized then it must be returned to the owners or distributed amongst the project affected people. We oppose any such feature which will promote land bank, since it has promoted large scale acquisition in the past and later illegally transferred the same land to corporations for real estate and other purposes.
Retrospective Application of the Law
6. On the question of retrospective application of the R&R provisions Committee has suggested to Ministry to re-examine the issue and incorporate necessary provisions
• Ministry has not accepted it and refused to do so.
It needs to be noted that nearly 100 million people have been displaced since independence and with a dismal 17-20 percent rate of resettlement and rehabilitation we had suggested that not only the retrospective application of the provisions of the new act but a National Resettlement and Rehabilitation Commission be established to deal with the claims of the projected affected people from various projects.
Resettlement and Rehabilitation Benefits
In terms of the resettlement and rehabilitation benefits Committee apart from suggesting some cosmetic changes have accepted the provisions of the Bill, we think this is unfortunate since provisions don't stand up to livelihood based R&R, it merely promotes the principle of cash compensation. It will be a retrogressive step since it negates the land and employment based R&R as mandated in the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal Award, and various other projects. The proposed provisions of compensating employment with money and high rates for land acquired will only lead to speculative land market and will destroy the fragile economy of the rural hinterland which will lead to further urban migration.
Urban Eviction
The Bill and the comments by both, Standing Committee as well as MoRD almost totally excludes and have unaddressed the situation in the urban areas, where there is no land acquisition, but eviction, brutal and unjust, for any and every elitist real estate development to infrastructure without guaranteeing right to shelter, right to life and livelihood. The only provision is to compensate with 20% of developed land for land owning families in urbanisation projects, which is not with regard to the cases where land belongs to the government or private entities but people are evicted. We demand a separate section or a separate act for the millions of the urban persons and urban land from getting misappropriated. The Bill with the presently proposed content need to be called only “Rural Bill”.
The rapacious use of Land Acquisition Act 1894 by the government to secure land for ‘development’ projects has caused over 100 million people to be displaced from their land, livelihoods and shelters. The country is dotted with communities resisting State sponsored land grab which resonate the demand for a just law to ensure that there is no forced acquisition of land and resources, including minerals and ground water. The government must respond to the voices from movements across places such as Narmada, Koel Karo, Singur, Nandigram, Sonbhadra, Chindwara, Bhavnagarm, Kalinga Nagar, Kashipur, Raigarh, Srikakulam and mining areas in central India with genuine efforts to address the longstanding crisis concerning land Acquisition and resettlement & rehabilitation.
If the UPA government serious about addressing the conflicts over the land and other natural resources then it must listen to the voices of those struggling or else it will only aggravate these conflicts all across the country. The need of growth, infrastructure and urbanisation can’t be fulfilled on the graveyard of millions. A pro-people Development Planning Bill with complete participation of the Gram Sabha will go a long way in stopping the massive corporate corruption and lead to decentralization of power having an overall impact on the politics of the country.
We the people’s movements and various alliances such as National Alliance of People’s Movements, National Forum of Forest people and Forest Workers, Kisan Sangharsh Samiti and others will hold a public discussion (13 August 2012, Constitution Club, New Delhi) on the forthcoming Bill with activists, people from movements which are fighting for land rights and representatives from national political parties. Thousands of people displaced by ’developmental’ projects in Narmada, Bhakra, Polavaram, Mundra, Pune (Lavasa), Nandigram, slum displaced people from Mumbai and fish-workers displaced by coastal and tourist projects will camp in Delhi to warn the government and protest against passing any such act in this session of the parliament on 21-23 August 2012.

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