Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Land Aquisition Bill diluted further by GoM

Nesar Ahmad

Even after pressed by his cabinet colleagues, Mr. Jairam Ramesh, the union minister for Rural Areas and Employment, had gone on record to say that there would be no further dilution in the land acquisition bill. The news reports, however, suggest that the Bill has been further diluted by the Group of Minister (GoM) headed by Agriculture Minister Mr. Sharad Pawar. Though as reported in an earlier post, the Bill had already been diluted by his ministry before placing it before the Cabinet, ignoring all the major recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development. After facing opposition from some cabinet members, the bill had been referred to a Group of Minister. The Rural Development Ministry tried to push its revised draft by writing to the members of GoM, lauding the revised bill as investor friendly and highlighting its pro-industry features.The GoM, with Urban Development Minister Mr. Kamal Nath, Highways and Railways Minister Dr. C P Joshi, and Commerce Minister Mr. Anand Sharma, has further diluted the bill in order to make it more investor friendly. Notably, some of the cabinet members reported to be advocating further dilution of the bill in the Cabinet meeting, with arguments that its stringent provisions would make acquisition difficult and high cost of compensation and land price would hamper urbanization and industrialization, are also part of the GoM. 




The Land acquisition bill which has gone many changes, and which has been now renamed as The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill. 

Changes made by the GoM: 


According to the news reports (here and here), changes made by the GoM give more powers to the state governments. Instead of fixing the compensation the bill only provides a baseline, leaving it to the states to decide the final award depending on distance from the urban centres and other factors. The state governments also get to decide the threshold for resettlement and rehabilitation in case of private purchase of land. Earlier the bill applied to all private acquisitions above 100 acres in rural areas and 50 acres in urban areas.
 
The GOM has also relaxed the provision of taking consent from 80% of the land owners and now it has been brought down to two-third of the land owners, in case the land is being acquired for private companies or the PPP projects. It is important to note that the original draft of the bill has provision to take consent from 80% of the affected population, which was diluted to 80% of the land owners in the revised draft. The GOM has further diluted this to two-thirds of the land owners, even though the Parliamentary Standing Committee had recommended that the government should not acquire land for private companies or PPP projects. 

Also, instead of binding the acquirers to take to take possession of land only after all the payments and infrastructural amenities have been provided the new Bill allows possession after they have put all the moneys for R&R in an escrow account. 




Also there are 13 other acts which have been kept out of the purview of the proposed bill. That means the new bill will not apply to the land acquired under these 13 central acts. Its important to note that though the first draft of the bill had no such list of the acts which were to be kept out of the out of the preview of the LARR bill, while tabling the bill in the Lok Sabha, the government added a list of 16 central acts which were to be kept out of the purview of the bill. The Parliamentary standing committee had objected to any such provision and recommended to remove Schedule IV of the bill altogether which had the list of central acts on which the provisions of new bill were not to be applied. The Ministry of Rural Development, when placed the revised bill before the cabinet had only removed 3 acts from the Schedule IV of the bill. Still there are thirteen central acts which are kept out of the purview of the new bill. 

Beside this the ministry had already decided not to apply the new act retrospectively. So all the current projects acquiring land will not come under the purview of the new act. 

It is interesting to see how the very few of  pro-people provisions of the original bill are being curtailed, ignoring all the demands put forward by the people's movements against land acquisition across the country as well as the recommendations made by the Parliamentary Standing Committee, which has representations of all the political parties. The bill does not allow the community or the gram sabhas to say no to any efforts of land acquisition for the government projects. It only has provision of taking consent of, now just two-third of the land owners, in case land being acquired for private companies and PPP projects. The bill wont apply to the land acquisition done under 13 other central acts. In its over zealous efforts to send right message to the investors and prove its pro-reform and pro industry credentials the government has been making changes in the bill, disregarding the interests of the poor farmers, tribal people, landless families, dependent on natural resources. The new bill is now expected to be tabled in the Parliament during the winter session.


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