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The new land acquisition bill

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Land acquisition by the government for builders and industry has been strongly opposed in the recent past by landholding farmers. Agitation in Bengal and UP grabbed headlines: especially since irrigated land, suitable for crops was preferentially being given to industry. Governments, over the years, used tax money to create massive irrigation projects, whose benefits would now go to the industry either directly or as a result of land transfer. Since the demands of industry and agriculture had to be balanced, the government decided to create a new piece of legislation.

HT reports on this new land acquisition bill which has been discussed by the cabinet:

The Union cabinet on Monday cleared a new land acquisition bill that proposes a minimum of four times the market value as compensation for land acquired by state governments in rural areas.

The concerns were mainly over getting the consent of 80% of landholders, which will make acquisition more difficult. They also said enactment of the bill would also raise land prices.

[Sharad] Pawar reportedly said provisions such as the failure to set up a project in 10 years after acquisition could drive away investors and industrialists.

Moneycontrol reports that the industry has essentially got what it wanted:

The new infrastructure definition will include airports, ports, rail systems of mining activities, education, sports, healthcare, tourism, transportation, space programme and more importantly low-cost housing.

Housing was something that the industry wanted a mention in the bill and of course they have got. But it has to be at a government-approved price. So we are essentially looking at the government low-cost housing or maybe even PPP project, but the government definitely has to be involved in this low-cost housing.

There is also now a provision of a three-year jail sentence for anybody who violates the provisions of this bill. And of course to accommodate industry they have lifted or relaxed the ban on multi-crop land, so 10% of multi-crop land now can be acquired by the industry.

In another report Moneycontrol reported how the government incorporated suggestions from the industry:

[Jairam Ramesh] has also taken on board some of the industries’ suggestions. For instance, the compensation price in rural areas has now been reduced to four times the market price as oppose to six times, which was the earlier proposal.

The blanket ban on use or acquisition of multi-crop irrigated land has also been relaxed a little bit. The return of land, which was earlier in the bill envisaged at five years, is now being extended to a period of ten years.

The opposite view was aired in a report in IE:

Suniti SR from [National Alliance of People’s Movements] in Pune said the draconian law needs to be abolished and the new act needs to incorporate lot of points. “We are not happy with the 80:20 ratio on land acquisition where the government will take on development projects if 80 per cent of people agree to land acquisition. We feel that unless absolutely necessary, land should not be acquired,’’ said Suniti.

She said that 17 lakh hectares of non-irrigated land in the state should first be taken up for development projects. “Irrigated land is looked as a long term investment for food security and for employment and this should not be taken up,’’she added.

Finally, state governments will be required to implement the new law. It is not clear that they have reacted. IE reports that Punjab, for one, has not had time to react:

Even as land acquisition has emerged as a major problem in the state with farmers demonstrating in Mansa and four projects being scrapped in the last four years due to land acquisition issues, the Punjab government has failed to give its viewpoint on the draft National Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill-2011, despite the Centre seeking its recommendations.

The state government was supposed to send its reply to the Union government by August 31, giving its suggestions, recommendations and viewpoint on the draft Bill — the Centre had sought suggestions from all states in this regard.

To set things in perspective, read this report on global trends in the Guardian:

The UN’s food and agricultural organisation and other analysts estimate that nearly 20m hectares (50m acres) of farmland – an area roughly half the size of all arable land in Europe – has been sold or has been negotiated for sale or lease in the last six months. Around 10m hectares was bought last year. The land grab is being blamed on wealthy countries with concerns about food security.

Some of the largest deals include South Korea’s acquisition of 700,000ha in Sudan, and Saudi Arabia’s purchase of 500,000ha in Tanzania. The Democratic Republic of the Congo expects to shortly conclude an 8m-hectare deal with a group of South African businesses to grow maize and soya beans as well as poultry and dairy farming.

India has lent money to 80 companies to buy 350,000ha in Africa. At least six countries are known to have bought large landholdings in Sudan, one of the least food-secure countries in the world.

Other countries that have acquired land in the last year include the Gulf states, Sweden, China and Libya. Those targeted include not only fertile countries such as Brazil, Russia and Ukraine, but also poor countries like Cameroon, Ethiopia, Madagascar, and Zambia.

It is not at all clear that the government has come out as a neutral referee in this tussle between farmers and the industry. A citizen on the street will not see tourism and housing as critical infrastructure for the nation. Unless the government makes a credible case that India’s food and water security is not put at risk, accusations of crony capitalism are going to fly thick and fast.

HT had more details of the bill after it was introduced in the Lok Sabha:

The much-awaited Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011, was introduced by rural development minister Jairam Ramesh after making some changes in its earlier draft. The proposed legislation will replace a more than century old act.

Ramesh said that the adverse impact on affected families -economic, environmental, social and cultural – must be assessed in participatory and transparent manner.

The final version of the bill, prepared after pre-legislative consultation with various stakeholders, clearly states that multi-crop irrigated land could be acquired “as a last resort measure.”

The bill also says only rehabilitation and resettlement provisions will apply when private companies buy land for a project – more than 100 acres in rural areas, or more than 50 acres in urban areas.

“Public purpose” has been comprehensively defined, so that government’s intervention in acquisition is limited to “defence, (and) certain development projects only.”

“It has also been ensured that consent of at least 80% of the project affected families is to be obtained through a prior informed process,” Ramesh said.

The bill also proposes to include provision for creation of a land bank in states to keep the acquired land with it if it is not used in 10 years by the concerned party.

Hindu Business Line reported some more details:

The Bill says, “Compensation will be given within a period of three months from the date of award. Monetary rehabilitation and resettlement will be provided within a period of six months from the date of award.”

Another new provision is about the use of land bank. It has already been said that land that is not used within 10 years, shall be transferred to the State Government’s land bank. “Now we shall move an official amendment which will help in returning the land to the original owner,” the Rural Development Minister, Mr Jairam Ramesh, said.

He added that it was Mr Rahul Gandhi’s idea to have one Bill for the land acquisition and also implementation of the act from retrospective effect.

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  1. […] new piece of legislation passed by the Lok Sabha yesterday, is not new; it was discussed in the cabinet and press in 2011, […]


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