The new bill was introduced in Parliament in September 2011 by the rural development ministry and has negotiated a tortuous path through a Parliamentary Standing Committee, the ministry, the cabinet and a group of ministers. On December 17, 2012, the ministry introduced a notice of amendments, with more than 150 changes, to the original bill. The bill is now slated to come up in the budget session.
Undoubtedly, the bill, now called The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act of 2012, has several significant and progressive features. An important change is that for the first time resettlement and rehabilitation issues have been intertwined with land acquisition. Till now, the law only dealt with land acquisition; and the only legal entitlement for the land loser was cash. Under the bill, the right to resettlement and rehabilitation is automatically triggered the moment the acquisition process starts. The resettlement and rehabilitation provisions in the bill become applicable even if any private entity purchases land after direct negotiations—this holds for purchases above a certain extent.
The bill’s most important provision is the requirement of consent of 70 per cent or 80 per cent of the to-be-affected people before the state can acquire land for a public-private partnership or a private enterprise, respectively. This is a significant step in fulfilling a long standing demand of people’s movements. Such movements—from struggles against the dam on the Narmada to the more recent ones in Singur, West Bengal, and against the POSCO steel factory in Odisha—have demanded that decision-making process of a project must give meaningful say to local communities.
Another significant provision of the bill is social impact assessment (SIA) as the first step once the government intends to acquire land for public purpose. Significantly, SIA will have to include an “assessment whether the proposed acquisition serves public purpose”. The proposed legislation also requires constitution of an expert committee to review SIA. If this committee finds that “the project does not serve any public purpose” or “the social costs and adverse social impacts of the project outweigh the potential benefits”, it shall recommend the project be “abandoned forthwith and no further steps to acquire the land… initiated”. The government can reject this recommendation, but it has to give reasons in writing.
In spite of these and several other positive provisions, there is little chance the bill will ensure justice to the affected. This is because the bill has many lacunae. For example, why should the condition of consent of the affected people hold only for private projects? Will a government-owned dam or thermal power plant have any less impact on the people? Moreover, given today’s policy of privatisation and divestment of publicly owned companies, what would happen if a government project acquires land without consent but this project is subsequently sold to private owners?
It is true that the expert committee has the right to see whether the proposed land acquisition and the project are serving public purpose. But the definition of public purpose given in the bill is so broad that almost any project can be shown as public purpose. For example, any electricity generation project is considered a public purpose project.
According to a study by the Prayas Energy Group in Pune, the power generation capacity of thermal (coal- and gas-based) power projects in the environment clearance cycle is close to 700,000 MW. This capacity is three times the thermal capacity that will need to be added in the next 25 years as per the long-term projections of the Planning Commission. How can we say that each of these projects will serve a public purpose? But the bill does include all power generation projects as those meant for public purpose. And since the committee will have no room to assess the public purpose of any project outside the scope defined by the Act, this power of the committee is as good as non-existent.
The resettlement and rehabilitation provisions of the bill are too weak. It certainly has a provision for increased cash compensation, but overall the provisions are inadequate to even restore the house, habitation and livelihood of the displaced.
Moreover, many elements of resettlement are to be provided only in cash. The bill only provides for compensating people belonging to the Scheduled Tribes and the Scheduled Castes with land up to one hectare. Others will be compensated with land only if their holdings are acquired for irrigation projects. Here, the provision is for a minimum of 0.4 hectare, but there is no condition to ensure that this minimum limit does not become the de facto maximum limit.
In fact, many provisions of resettlement are based on minimalist principles, that is, they create the smallest possible legal entitlement. For instance, houses to be provided are as per norms of Indira Awas Yojana, and employment is to be offered “at a rate not lower than the minimum wages provided for in any other law for the time being in force”. What is the point in saying this, when there is another law that ensures minimum wage? This raises the suspicion that the displaced will get jobs that pay the minimum possible. Several other resettlement provisions are rendered ineffective by pre-fixing them with words such as “as far as possible” and “efforts will be made”. This includes important issues such as granting fishing rights in reservoirs to oustees and providing irrigation for land given to the displaced.
Last but not the least, the provisions of the bill will not to be applicable to all land acquisition in the country. For example, land for coal mining—a significant part of the land that are to be acquired in the near future—will continue to be acquired under the Coal Bearing Areas Act.
Looking at these and other parts of the bill it is clear that it will not be able to deliver justice to those losing land or being displaced. One cannot but ask, is it the weakness of the government, or is it the power of the vested interests that is responsible for this situation? Whatever may be the case, the message to the displaced is clear:
(THE FOLLOWING PART HAS BEEN COMPILED FROM THE MAGAZINE DOWN TO EARTH WRITTEN BEFORE THE BILL WAS PASSED,BUT IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND THE DEBATE)
What is the land acquisition Bill 2011 all about?
The Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Bill, 2011 a proposed law that lays down various provisions and directions to be followed while acquiring land anywhere in the country. The term ‘land acquisition’ means forcible acquisition of land from an unwilling seller and is distinct from a land purchase from a willing seller.
The Bill merges the land acquisition law with rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) provisions; the UPA government had earlier proposed two separate bills. The new proposed law replaces over-a-century-old Land Acquisition Act of 1894 which has various shortcomings—it has no resettlement and rehabilitation provisions for those displaced by the land acquisition and provides low rates of compensation to the land owners.
LARR Bill, 2011 was introduced in Lok Sabha on September 7, 2011. The present rural minister, Jairam Ramesh, has renamed LARR Bill, 2011 as “Right to Fair Compensation, Resettlement, Rehabilitation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Bill 2012”. The government claims that the proposed law balances the need for facilitating land acquisition for various public purposes with the concerns of farmers and people whose livelihood depends on the land so acquired.
So far, the government has moved 165 amendments; the opposition has moved as many as 116
Important provisions of the law
- Compensation in rural areas would be calculated by multiplying market value by two and adding assets attached to the land or building and adding a solatium. In urban areas it would be market value plus assets attached to the land and solatium
- Developers to get the consent of up to 80 per cent of people whose land is acquired for private projects. For PPP projects, the approval of 70 per cent of land owners is mandatory
- Multi-cropped, irrigated land cannot be acquired unless it is for defence or emergency caused by natural calamity
- Land should be returned to original owner if not used in five years for the purpose for which it is acquired, subject to the refund of one-fourth of the compensation amount with interest from date of payment
- The government will not acquire land for private companies for private purpose
- The Bill mandates social impact assessment when government proposes acquisition of land over 40.46 ha, which should be conducted in consultation with the gram sabha (village council). It also provides for the appointment of an administrator for rehabilitation
- Both land acquisition and resettlement and rehabilitation provisions of the Bill will apply to projects when government acquires land for its own use or on behalf of private companies for stated public purpose, including PPP projects. In case companies directly acquire over 40 ha from land owners, they will be responsible for resettlement and rehabilitation
- The Bill also proposes amenities like schools, health centres and civic infrastructure in places where project-affected people are resettled
- The urgency clause should be exercised in the rarest of rare cases like national defence or for resettlement purposes. This means no land acquisition can proceed without public hearing
What were the key suggestions of parliamentary standing committee on rural development on the Bill?
- A restrictive definition of public purpose which means development of infrastructure by the public agencies with public funds only
- No forcible acquisition for private projects, or for public-private partnership (PPP) projects, which cannot to be categorized as public
- No forcible acquisition of agricultural land for non-agricultural purpose, including single crop growing farmland
- All 16 Central Acts that are presently exempted from LARR 2011 provisions should be brought under the purview of the new Act
- All studies like Environment Impact Assessment and expert committee appraisal is done in consultation with the gram sabhas and the corresponding reports should be made available to the gram sabhas
- If land is not used till five years from the date of possession then it should be returned to the land owners
- Re-examination of rehabilitation and resettlement provisions
Q What are the key concerns about this new law?
- Gram Sabha and Basti Sabha don’t have legal right to decide the nature of public purpose. As a result misuse of land may occur.
- Acquisition for Private and PPP Projects:lLand reform activists fear that the state would again play a role of facilitators under garb of PPP project
- The Bill leaves it to the state governments to decide if non-irrigated, rain-fed, single-crop land can be acquired or not. India has 75% of the agricultural land as rain fed and most of it is single cropped. Such land is mostly held by Dalits, Adivasis and marginal farmers
- 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
- Role and Consent of Gram and Basti Sabha not required in case of linear projects such as railways, highways, major district roads, power lines, and irrigation canals
- Ministry retains the provisions for state land bank. The provision is likely to be misused as large-scale acquisition took place in the past and later the so acquired land parcels were illegally transferred to corporations for real estate and other purposes
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