After almost a decade long hiatus, the union government finally managed to get one of its sign-post legislations - the land acquisition bill - passed in the Lok Sabha. Although the bill is yet to pass the floor test in the Upper House of the Parliament, the legislation passed by the Lok Sabha on 29 August 2013 hardly found favour in the industry, and hardly offers anything worthwhile for the land owners either.
The Land Acquisition Act, 1894 is an Act which was promulgated during British rule and was actually a draconian law. The social and political implication of the application of the law on the farmers of Nandigram and Singur in West Bengal is well known and how the farmers fought under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee against forcible acquisition of land is history. The brutal force unleashed by the state administration and ruling party on poor farmers clearly demonstrated the pressing need for a new legislation.
The Bill at a glance
- Payment of compensations that is up to 4 times the market value in rural areas and 2 times the market value in urban areas.
- To address historical injustice the Bill applies retrospectively to cases where no land acquisition award has been made.
- No law can be acquired in Scheduled Areas without the consent of the Gram Sabhas.
- No one shall be dispossessed until and unless all payments are made and alternative sites for the resettlement and rehabilitation have been prepared.
- Compensation to those who are dependent on the land being acquired for their livelihood.
- In cases where PPP projects are involved or acquisition is taking place for private companies, the Bill requires the consent of no less than 70 per cent and 80 per cent respectively (in both cases) of those whose land is sought to be acquired.
- In case land remains unutilised after acquisition, the new Bill empowers states to return the land either to the owner or to the State Land Bank.
- In every project those losing land and belonging to the SC or ST will be provided land equivalent to land acquired or two and a one-half acres, whichever is lower (this is higher than in the case of non-SC/ST affected families).
- Where the affected families belonging to the SC and the ST are relocated outside of the district then they shall be paid an additional 25 rehabilitation and resettlement benefits to which they are entitled in monetary terms along with a one-time entitlement of fifty thousand rupees.
Why the bill is inadequate
The Land Acquisition Bill, introduced by the Union Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh, chose to ignore some of the vital recommendations made by the Standing Committee of the Parliament.
The Standing committee proposed that agricultural land should not be forcibly acquired, for non-agricultural purpose including single crop and multi crop land. The proposed Bill leaves this to the state governments to decide, rather than take a clear stand on it. It makes provisions for acquisition of common property resources too.
The standing committee has recommended that all 16 central acts should be brought under the purview of the new act, to make all equal before law (Article 14 of the Constitution). Ministry of Rural Development wants to exclude 13 out of 16 Acts including Industrial Development Act, Land Acquisition (Mines) Act, National Highways Act and others from the purview of the new act. This means that 90% of the land acquired as on today will continue with injustice and force used, with no change at all.
The most important feature of the bill is that it requires developers to get the consent of up to 80 per cent of people whose land is acquired for private projects. For public-private partnerships, the approval of 70 per cent of landowners is mandatory. The government must not play mediator in any acquisition, and the 80:20 or 70:30 formula should be scrapped. Land should be acquired if there is 100 per cent consent.
Why the government chose to ignore these recommendations, while including 11 out of the 13 recommendations made by the Standing Committee in its bill, is a mystery.
Holes to fill in the land bill
- Ministry has proposed an expansive definition of public purpose and infrastructure and also a clause which leaves the discretionary power to declare anything as infrastructure and of public purpose.
- Forcible acquisition of land from farmers for private as well as PPP, should be strictly disallowed.
- The government must not play mediator in any acquisition, and the 80:20 or 70:30 formula should be scrapped.
- States know their regions much better than an official sitting in New Delhi does, and hence instead of National Monitoring Committee, every state should have a monitoring committee.
- Government's prerogative should be setting up small and medium industries, instead of heavy industries, in areas where land is available only in pockets.
Multi-crop land needs to be protected. Industries can be set up on either mono-crop land or on barren land. In some states, even 100 acres of land may not be available at a stretch for consistent acquisition; this proposes a big challenge for setting up of big industries. In such a scenario, the government’s prerogative should be setting up small and medium industries.
Creation of land banks and land maps might help investors a great deal. West Bengal, for instance, has already released a land bank and demarcated areas as industrial zones and agricultural zones, for smoother acquisitions.
Not just farmers, even tribal communities - who are anyways endangered - need a buffer to preserve their land and culture; the same has been denied in this legislation. The land losers need to be well compensated, so that they can make a fresh beginning. Not just monetary compensation, the families giving up their land should be given jobs and an alternative house too. A truly welfare state would also ensure land losers are given plots of land of equal measure, for every acre of land they part with.
The suggestion of the Union government to set up a National Monitoring Committee for acquisitions is unnecessary and conceptually invalid. States know their regions much better than an official sitting in New Delhi does, and hence instead of National Monitoring Committee, every state should have a monitoring committee.
Highlights of the Land Reforms in West Bengal post 2011
- Landless and homesteadless rural agricultural labourers, artisans and fishermen families who hold no other land in any capacity whatsoever and includes the heirs of such person and residing on the land of other person not having family relation (parental or maternal or in-laws) will be eligible to get land under the Nijo Griha Nijo Bhoomi scheme.
- The state govt framed a comprehensive Land Allotment Policy in the month of December 2012, to streamline the settlement of government land and introduce uniformity and transparency in land settlement and allotment cases.
- No forcible acquisition of land took place in the state in the last two years; all acquisitions of mouzas have been digitized and updated.
- Government of West Bengal did not acquire land for private companies and did not use the emergency provision in the acquiring of land in the last two years.
With such glaring loopholes remaining unplugged in this legislation, one is forced to wonder if the bill will actually serve the purpose of farmers, or be another tool for government oppression.