Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Second Amendment) 2015

The following article is based on my own interpretation of the said events. Any material borrowed from published and unpublished sources has been appropriately referenced. I will bear the sole responsibility for anything that is found to have been copied or misappropriated or misrepresented in the following post.

Paroma Sen, E-MBA 2015-18, Vinod Gupta School of Management, IIT Kharagpur

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This week the much debated Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement bill was back in the news. As per the Indian Express dated Aug 4, 2015, The BJP led NDA government has decided to push back most of it’s controversial amendments to the bill which it introduced through an ordinance in Dec 2014. Government had a torrid time in the Rajya Sabha to get a consensus on it’s amendments to the bill with consistent opposition from the opposition parties and many of it’s allies. The new amended version of the bill is being hailed as almost similar to the bill introduced by UPA government during 2013.

The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 was introduced by the UPA government to establish a cohesive land acquisition law throughout the country. UPA government had introduced 15 amendments in bill which were vehemently opposed during two of it’s promulgations. In it’s complete U-turn of tactics the government has rolled back 6 of these 15 amendments to get a consensus within the joint parliamentary committee. The changes accepted by the BJP related to the consent clause, social impact assessment, exemption of certain projects from provisions of the Bill, on prosecution of officers, definition of private entity and acquisition for industrial corridors. With these changes and discussion on the remaining three amendments the government is hopeful of getting this bill passed in the upper house of the parliament this time.

Following are few of the controversial amendments which were being opposed by opposition parties as well as the general public.

1. The NDA Bill enabled the government to exempt five categories of projects from the requirements of social impact assessment, restrictions on acquisition of multi-cropped land and consent for private projects and public private partnerships (PPPs) projects.
Defense
Rural infrastructure
Affordable housing
Industrial corridors
Infrastructure including PPPs where government owns the land.

2. The UPA Act deemed the head of a government department guilty for an offence by the department. The Bill removed this, and added the requirement of prior sanction to prosecute a government employee.
3. The 2013 Act required consent of 70 per cent of landholders for PPP projects, and 80 per cent for private projects. The NDA bill did away with this requirement.
4. The LARR Act, 2013 required land acquired but remained unutilized for five years, to be returned to the original owners or the land bank.
The new bill stated that the period after which unutilized land will need to be returned will be either five years, or any period specified at the time of setting up the project, whichever is later.

In a country with a history of oppression of underprivileged villagers & farmers all the above amendments would have proven detrimental in the much talked about inclusive growth. The whole idea of overriding the consent of the land owners & citizens impacted by the projects seemed to be draconian. Such moves by the government will further fuel the existing separatist and naxalite movements in underdeveloped regions. On one hand these amendments provided additional means for the oppression of the underprivileged while on the other hand it would foster a conducive environment for crony capitalism, none of which our nation can afford at this juncture. The amendment for relaxing the clause to prosecute a government employee in case of an offense by the department did little to the reassure the public on government accountability. Even though the bill is looking pro-farmers in it’s new avatar the key lies in ensuring seamless execution of ownership transfers, effective rehabilitation of the affected and due disbursal of the compensation to them. The provision of an ombudsman to resolve all the offenses arising during the project  implementation will provide a sense of faith to the citizens. This is something the government can bring into reality to demonstrate it’s pro-farmer stance.

If one wants to play the devil’s advocate, it can also be argued that the roll back of these amendments may negatively impact the investor sentiments. This will hamper the progress of Narendra Modi’s ambitious ‘Make in India’ campaign. There have been cases of multi million dollar projects getting blocked or moving out of the country due to the policy paralysis in the existing land acquisition model. One cannot simply ignore the employment and economic
potential of such projects for a largely young country like ours. We cannot always remain an agrarian country if we are to sustain in this fast changing global eco-system.

So here we stand as a nation poised to do the right thing, eager to shed off the seemingly eternal inertia with a gusto, restless to realize our potential at this crucial juncture of the 21st century, but the question remains, can we embark on this journey together ?

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