New Delhi: The Central government is finally getting ready to collect data on people displaced—and also compensated—to facilitate industrial growth in the country. As a first step, it has asked all state governments to share information on land acquired by them since 1947, the year of India’s independence, for development purposes and also the details of compensation paid for such acquisitions.

Inadequate law: A file picture of villagers protesting against West Bengal government at the site of Tata Motors factory in Singur. The Union government has been criticized on several occasions in the recent past for not doing enough to ensure that sufficient laws are in place to protect the dispossessed. (PTI)

In the absence of any official data, estimates of people affected by projects vary widely. Some reports have indicated that the number of people affected by projects between 1947 and 2000 range anywhere between 20 million and 60 million. This figure could have risen significantly since 2000 as the country saw unprecedented industrial growth in the past one decade. So is the number of those who were not compensated, according to experts.

The Central government will also hold meetings with state government officials in the next two months to review details of the ongoing and completed projects in each state. The meetings will discuss compensation packages and resettlement arrangements, among other issues, said a government official, who did not wish to be identified.

“We need to build a database of such information for any effective intervention wherever cases of rehabilitation are still pending," said another official of the ministry, also requesting anonymity.

The government has come under attack on several occasions in recent times—especially when troubles erupted over acquiring land for industrial use—for not doing enough to ensure that sufficient laws are in place to protect the dispossessed.

The Union rural development ministry’s directive to the states, asking them to furnish the names of the displaced and check whether compensation has been paid to them, comes at a time when the government plans to introduce two Bills—one on land acquisition and the other on rehabilitation—in the coming monsoon session of Parliament.

Once approved by lawmakers, the new legislations are expected to rein in the sweeping powers states currently enjoy to acquire land and put in place a stricter mechanism for rehabilitation. There is at present no central legislation in the country to protect the interests of the displaced when compensation or resettlement promises are breached.

One of the Bills—The National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2007—is aimed at making rehabilitation policy far more transparent. Also, once it is passed by lawmakers, the states will be bound to disclose the details of the displaced in all industrial projects and place the data in the public domain, for example, on the Internet.

The Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2007, also expected to be placed in Parliament in the next session amending a law dating back to 1894, attempts to reduce governments’ role in land acquisition. There will be a precondition for government assistance to companies while buying land. Only after a company completes 70% of the acquisition can the government help it buy the rest 30% of the land.

Some campaign groups and experts, however, called the government’s latest attempts “too late".

According to them, while the rural ministry plans to set up a monitoring cell with some two dozen posts to regulate proper rehabilitation, little accountability has been placed on the government for violation of the law.

“It is good that the government has realized its follies and will correct future actions. But it does not cover the damage already done," said D. Bandyopadhyay, a former bureaucrat who headed a Planning Commission committee that looked into development and extremism issues. The displacement has over the years given rise to violent movements, he said. “There are some four crore people who do not own land and are now cannon fodder for violent movements."