Government should be free to acquire any land: panel

Government should be free to acquire any land: panel

New Delhi: A panel of members of Parliament (MPs) have suggested that the long-pending land acquisition Bill should allow freedom to governments to take over land, even that being used for agriculture, for industrial projects.

The recommendation by the parliamentary committee will, if accepted, make it easier for governments to acquire land for industrial projects, but is certain to prove controversial.

The acquisition of land for industry has become a contentious issue in India with the most high-profile instance, the takeover, by the ruling communist government, of agricultural land in Singur in West Bengal for a Tata Motors factory resulting in protests that eventually saw the auto maker decide to relocate the plant, meant for its small car Nano to Sanand in Gujarat.

The committee has also fixed the compensation that should be paid to landowners at 150% of the highest price at which land in the area was sold in the preceding three years.

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The committee rejected certain provisions in a draft of the Bill, including one that said 70% of the land for a project should be acquired by the government and the rest by the company developing the project, and another that suggested issuing shares or debentures in the project instead of monetary compensation.

The committee said it did not think the rural poor would be able to transact in shares or debentures. The committee, in a recommendation on a separate legislation-in-making, has proposed that those displaced by such acquisition of land for projects be given a legal framework to claim compensation and rehabilitation. At present, India does not have an overarching national policy on rehabilitation, which means that the compensation is arbitrary in nature.

The panel also recommended that the rehabilitation and resettlement benefits would be applicable to each and every affected family irrespective of the total number of families affected. Both Bills assume significance at a time when industries are displacing a large swathe of the population. According to a 8 May Mint report, there could be between 22 million and 60 million people who have lost their land due to displacement since independence.

Both the Bills, The Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2007 and The Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2007, were introduced in Parliament in December.

The committee, a so-called standing committee of Parliament, includes representatives of all political parties from both Houses. Such committees debate and vet Bills that the government has introduced before returning it to Parliament for a vote. This particular standing committee on rural development is headed by Kalyan Singh, Rajya Sabha MP belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party.

“We have to study and see what is accepted (from the recommendations made by the committee). It is not necessary to accept all the recommendations," said Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, Union minister for rural development.

“There are many, many industrial projects with no dispute. This is a matter of picking the right area unconnected to cultivation or sometime it is led by the need for infrastructure. The Indian corporate has to be sensitive and strategic in choosing the location, study the cost benefits involved as well as look at the long-term implications," said Amit Mitra, secretary general of industry lobby Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

A standing committee member belonging to the Communist Party of India (Marxist) Hannan Mollah said that the committee did not agree to the 70% cap on government acquisition because it “wanted the state government to get full powers to acquire land".

Mollah also said it didn’t make any sense to ban the acquisition of agricultural land because “in states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, availability of non agricultural land for industrial purpose is very low".