Imbroglio over Land Acquisition Bill
From the occupational point of view, agriculture is still the most prominent employer in India providing livelihood to more than half of the country’s population. Since land is the most basic prerequisite of agriculture, the peasant community is most apprehensive about the new amendments in the land acquisition bill. However, before analysing the affects of land acquisition, it is better to take a look at the history of land acquisition in India.
Land Acquisition Act 1894
- Passed by the Britishers, it is the oldest formal law defining the procedure of land acquisition.
- Under the 1894 legislation once the acquiring authority has formed the intention to acquire a particular plot of land, it can carry out the acquisition regardless of how the person whose land is sought to be acquired is affected.
- There was no real appeal mechanism to stop the process of the acquisition.
- There were absolutely no provisions in the 1894 law relating to the resettlement and rehabilitation of those displaced by the acquisition.
- The rates paid for the land acquired were on the basis of prevailing circle rates in the area which are outdated and hence not even remotely indicative of the actual rates prevailing in the area.
Features of Land Acquisition Act of 2013
- The payment of compensation was increased to four times the circle rate in rural areas and two times in urban areas.
- Resettlement and rehabilitation were made accompanying obligations while doing a land acquisition.
- To address historical injustice the act applied retrospectively to the cases where no land acquisition award was made.
- Special safeguards for tribal areas.
- The law provides that no one shall be dispossessed until and unless all payments are made and alternative sites for the resettlement and rehabilitation have been prepared.
- In addition to the land owners, it provided compensation to those who were dependent on the land being acquired for their livelihood.
- For PPP projects or for private projects, the consent of no less than 70% and 80% respectively (in both cases) is required of those whose land is sought to be acquired.
- In case land remains unutilized after acquisition, the new Bill empowers states to return the land either to the owner or to the State Land Bank.
In this manner, the 2013 land acquisition amendment act changed the very nature of the procedure of land acquisition in India. The 2013 act undoubtedly addressed the concerns of farmers and other disadvantaged groups; however, it made the process of land acquisition a little more cumbersome for the development of industries. Due to large number of litigations and delayed justice at Indian courts, land acquisition is the most prominent obstacle in setting up an industry. Right after the passing of this act, many states, representatives from industry and industry minister himself asked the central government to relax some to the provisions of the act as it has made the establishment of new industries nearly impossible.
As agriculture is already overburdened, sharing less than 15% of GDP but providing employment to more than 50% of the workforce. Surplus population engaged in agriculture had to be transferred to industry and services. For that matter, surplus population had to be trained with new skills and employed in the industrial sector. But the cumbersome procedures of new land acquisition act had nearly stopped the establishment of new industries. Several states like Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra and Manipur had demanded that the process of Social Impact Assessment (SIA) be restricted to only large projects.
In order to boost the growth of industrial and manufacturing sector, the NDA government introduced some changes in the 2013 act of land acquisition. Some major changes introduced by the Modi government are as under –
- The mandatory consent of 70% and 80% of affected families removed for land acquired for five types of projects – defence, rural infrastructure, infrastructure and social infrastructure, industrial corridors and housing for poor.
- Removal of Social Impact Assessment (SIA) for aforesaid projects and PPP projects on government land.
- Under erstwhile act, in case of any mischief on government’s part, head of the respective department was held responsible. The new Act said that head of department cannot be prosecuted without prior sanction of government. This “immunity” is given to ensure bureaucrats don’t sit on the files, fearing media-trials and judicial activism.
Right since the government promulgated changes in the land acquisition through an ordinance in December 2014, every now and then, protests by several groups have been reported across the country. Noted social activist Anna Hazare had also launched a movement against the new act calling it anti-farmers. Some major arguments levelled by the opposition are as under –
- Social impact assessment (SIA) not required in five types of projects. So, local labourers, artisans, small traders will either get zero or very small relief package, even if their livelihood is lost because of industrial/infrastructure project.
- Private colleges and hospitals too can acquire land. But if they continue to charge hefty-fees then no real ‘public-purpose’ is served.
- Given the “Immunity” against prosecution, bureaucrats may play mischief in land acquisition. Persons responsible for land acquisition must be held responsible for misdeeds too.
- Those “five exempted categories” are very broad- particularly “infrastructure and social-infrastructure”. So, most projects can be done without social impact assessment or without taking consent of 70-80% of affected families.
While it is true that 1894 act was exploitative and representative of police state, the 2013 act is too liberal and it makes nearly impossible for an entity to acquire land for the development purpose. So some changes were required in that act. But ordinance route is also not the best route in a democracy. Before introducing changes, it is important for the government to allay the fears of the farmers and usher the era of economic growth which is not ruthless but pro people of India.