New Delhi: The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government’s proposed land acquisition law, a politically sensitive and critical piece of legislation that could potentially remove a big roadblock to industrial investment, aims to address rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R), providing safeguards for both land owners and livelihood losers, while clearly defining the “public purpose” for which land can be acquired by the government.
“This draft Bill seeks to balance the need for facilitating land acquisition for various public purposes, including infrastructure development, industrialization and urbanization, while at the same time meaningfully addressing the concerns of farmers and those whose livelihoods are dependent on the land being acquired,” rural development minister Jairam Ramesh has said in his foreward to the Bill.
The Draft National Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011, which was unveiled to the public by the ministry of rural development on Friday, lays out separate compensation packages that take into account three factors—the market value of the land, the value of assets attached to the land and 100% of total compensation—for rural and urban areas.
As proposed, the final compensation in rural areas “would not be less than six times the original market value”, while in urban areas it “would not be less than twice that of the market value determined”.
Once passed, the Bill will replace the archaic Land Acquisition Act of 1894 and will supersede all specialized legislations on land acquisition, including those for special economic zones and railways. The ministry, which has posted the draft on its website, said the document has been put in the public domain as part of “the pre-legislative consultative process”.
Land acquisition has been a controversial issue in many parts of the country, with farmers’ agitations, alleging unfair compensation and forcible acquisition, turning violent and becoming politicized. While it was the single biggest issue that caused the fall of the more than three-decade-old Communist regime in West Bengal, various agitations across Uttar Pradesh ahead of crucial assembly elections next year have the potential to cause significant electoral damage to the ruling Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party.
Some of the most prominent land agitations include the Singur land agitation in West Bengal, the Bhatta-Parsaul episode in Uttar Pradesh, the anti-Posco agitation in Orissa and the Jaitapur protests in Maharashtra.
Farmers’ unrest over the loss of livelihood has been delaying Posco’s steel plant, the country’s largest foreign direct investment project.
The draft Bill emphasises the need for a combined acquisition and rehabilitation law. It’s the first ever national law addressing R&R of families affected and displaced as a result of land acquisition.
Laying down its scope, the draft Bill permits land acquisition under three broad categories—when the government acquires land for its own use; when it acquires to ultimately transfer to private companies for a given public purpose; and immediate and declared use by private companies for public purpose.
The government has proposed that the latter two kinds of acquisitions can take place only when 80% of the affected families consent. It also says the public purpose once stated cannot be later changed.
Leaving little scope for ambiguity, the draft defines “public purpose” as strategic purposes, infrastructure and industry (where benefits largely accrue to the general public), R&R purposes, planned development for urban and rural sites, private companies using the land for public purposes and any need due to natural calamities. Including infrastructure and industry in the ambit of public purpose will allow the government to acquire land for industrialization.
However, the Bill prohibits acquisition of multi-crop land.
“Enough choices have been given in the draft Bill, for everyone—the government, farmers and industry,” said N.C. Saxena, member of the National Advisory Council (NAC) and former secretary of Planning Commission. “The experience so far has been that while we need industrialization and urbanization, it gets delayed and then costs go up because the farmer ends up going to court. So this comprehensive Bill is very important to reduce the cost and gestation period, and increase certainty.”
NAC is an influential advisory body headed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi. The draft Bill has laid out a comprehensive compensation package, one of the most debated provisions in the proposed legislation.
It also provides for returning the land to the owner if it is not used for the stated purpose within five years.
The draft Bill, however, says the R&R provisions would be applicable only when private companies buy 100 or more acres on their own and when they approach the government for partial acquisition.
Separate comprehensive rehabilitation packages for land owners and livelihood losers (who might not own land) include an allowance of Rs3,000 per month per family for a year and an inflation-indexed annuity of Rs2,000 per month per family for 20 years. It also provides a separate package for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
The draft Bill has incorporated most of the suggestions on compensation and rehabilitation of NAC. Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi has also been campaigning for new legislation that would take care of farmers’ interests, apart from backing agitations by them over land acquisition in Uttar Pradesh.
Ramesh has said state governments would be consulted before arriving at a final version of the Bill, although the government has listed it for introduction in the monsoon session of Parliament beginning on Monday.
The draft Bill is silent on whether the provisions would be applicable to those projects for which land has already been acquired.
According to Saxena, the Bill is balanced as far as compensation is concerned. “A higher minimum compensation has been provided in rural areas since farmers there are mostly unaware. However, in urban areas, because farmers can negotiate, the minimum is not that high,” he said.
Industry welcomed the draft Bill.
“The fact that government would continue to play a significant role in land acquisition for industrial development as proposed in the draft Bill is indeed a very positive step since planned industrialization is essential for job creation and inclusive growth,” Chandrajit Banerjee, director general of Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), said in a release. “However, CII would like to strongly recommend a need to include a provision in the Bill for setting up land bank corporations to facilitate acquisition and disbursement of land for industrial use; digitization of land records and also zoning of land as these will be key for systematic development of industrial land.”
The draft Bill has also drawn criticism.
“There should be a legal protection for land owners against land and real estate mafia since we have had such bad experiences in Maharashtra,” said Sitaram Yechury, politburo member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
“This Bill, if it becomes law, will not bring any change in the character of the (anti-Posco) movement,” said Abhay Sahoo, chairman of Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti. “Not just 80% of the farmers, but everyone in the village community should okay any diversion of land for any purposes.”
Madhuresh Kumar of the National Alliance of People’s Movements, a non-governmental organization, said the draft Bill is regressive since it even legitimizes the acquisition by private companies.
Asit Ranjan Mishra and Ruchira Singh contributed to this story.