New Delhi: Rural development minister Jairam Ramesh on Friday rejected a key recommendation of a parliamentary panel that land for commercial use should be purchased in the open market, saying that the government should have a role in acquiring land for industrial, commercial or for profit enterprises or private companies.
Justifying this as necessary for reviving economic growth in the country, Ramesh told reporters: “At a time when investor sentiment is uncertain and economic growth is under some pressure in our country, we need to quickly resolve the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill (LARR) 2011.”
Seeking fresh consultations before the suggestions are incorporated, Ramesh said the revised Bill could be brought before Parliament in the monsoon session. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may chair a meeting of state chief ministers on consultations on the Bill, he said, adding that the opinions of states would be given priority consideration for incorporation in the revised Bill.
Seeking consultations: Rural development minister Jairam Ramesh. Photo by Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Pointing out that the standing committee recommendations were not binding, Ramesh said it was normal practice to accept important recommendations of the committee and at times when the government did not, it would give clear reasons for rejecting the suggestions.
“There are certain principles that we have to follow... one is that the state, that is the government, must have a role in land acquisition,” Ramesh said, rejecting the argument given by the standing committee, which said the panel had studied similar processes in developed countries such as the US, Germany, France and elsewhere.
India, he said, was a developing country, where land records were maintained under antiquated systems. “We must recognise that we are not in a stage of development where government role in land acquisition can be completely eliminated and abandoned.”
The parliamentary standing committee headed by Bharatiya Janata Party member Sumitra Mahajan had examined the LARR Bill, introduced in parliament in September, and tabled its report on Thursday. Chief among its recommendations were that the government should not procure land for private enterprises, public-private partnership ventures and public enterprises.
“The states can facilitate the acquisition,” Mahajan told reporters on Friday. “It may even identify the land and keep it for commercial purposes. The governments can offer tax exemptions too. But the purchase should be done in the open market.”
Ramesh, however, was of the view that “public purpose can at times be met by government organizations and at times these are met even by private companies also. The notion that private companies serve only private interests is not something that I believe in... There are interests and occasions where government consciously seeks private investment to promote public objectives.”
Stating that the existing land acquisition act dating back to 1894 was clearly outdated, Ramesh also pointed out that the old law was not in favour of those selling the land or those living off it. The LARR Bill had a resettlement and rehabilitation package that was strongly tilted towards these groups of people, he said.
The minister favoured giving maximum flexibility to the state governments in the land acquisition process, stressing that the procedures linked to “acquisition must be timely and transparent and should not be such that it leads to endless litigations or court procedures or to endless disputes.”
Ramesh added that he was in agreement with several suggestions made by the panel on issues such as enhanced compensation and involvement of village committees and city municipal authorities while deciding compensation issues.