The land with a Capital: Land Acquisition Act Then and Now

By Rajat Kain,

The bill is out of the pocket and something gotta give now…Semantics are not just confined to the words now, especially when you have a government so very keen to make a land and building out of it. And it is only an irony that a Union government, run by a party with majority unto-itself is leaping but within their own wrong confines. The latest in the rounds of arbitrary executive excess is an Ordinance to amend the Land Acquisition Act 2013. The 2013 bill was drafted, brought in, passed and declared a law of land by the Congress-led UPA in its twilight era. Among anything, it streamed in strict systemic checks on acquisition and an assurance of fair compensation. Under the old Land Acquisition Act brought in the colonial years of 1894, once the acquiring authority had formed the intention to acquire a particular plot of land, it could carry out the acquisition regardless of how the person whose land is sought to be acquired is affected. There were no safeguards or appeal mechanism to stop the process of the acquisition. Further, the law was silent on resettlement and rehabilitation of those displaced with no provisions relating to the resettlement and rehabilitation of those displaced by the acquisition. Besides the provision of Urgency clause made it even more draconian. The clause never truly defined what constituted an urgent need and left it to the discretion of the acquiring authority. As a result almost all acquisitions under the 1894 rule were done invoking an ‘urgency’, which often resulted in forced/coercive acquisition.

LAAR

With the protest against an unfair and forceful acquisition swelling in at Nandigram, Bhatta Parsaul, Tappal and even in Junagarh a dire need arose to bring in a new acquisition law that dealt with the equitable compensation, utmost fair resettlement and rehab of the farmers/land owners. Responding to it the Congress party brought in and passed Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Act 2013.

Here is a quick recap of the provisions of LARR, 2013:

  1. Compensation: 4 times the market value in rural areas and 2 times the market value in urban areas.
  2. Public Hearings and SIA: No land can be acquired in Scheduled Areas without the consent of the Gram Sabhas. Section 4 of the Act dealt with the provisions of Public Hearing and Social Impact Assessment.
  3. Retrospective operation: The Bill applies retrospectively to cases where no land acquisition payment/award has been made. Also in cases where the land was acquired five years ago but no compensation has been paid or no possession has taken place then the land acquisition process will be started afresh in accordance with the provisions of LARR 2013.
  4. Prior payment: No one shall be dispossessed until and unless all payments are made and alternative sites for the resettlement and rehabilitation have been prepared.
  5. Consent Clause: Consent required of 70% of land owners in the cases of acquisition for the purpose of PPP projects. And 80% of land owners in the case of projects for private companies.
  6. Others:

# If land remains unutilized after acquisition, the State govts can return the land either to the owner or to the State Land Bank.

# SC/ 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.

# No multi-crop irrigated land will be used for acquisition.

More important, the provisions of LARR, 2013 safeguarded the food security aspect with:

# Special provisions to ensure that multi-crop land is acquired only as a last resort option.

# Imposition of State limits on the area of agricultural/ multi-crop land.

# The state had to cultivate an equivalent area of land elsewhere as agricultural land if a multi-crop/agriculture land were acquired. If they could not do this, then they must deposit an amount equivalent to its value in an account to be used for the purposes of enhancing food security.

But post the Ordinance stamped by the BJP govt. lot of pro-poor, pro-farmer and pro-owner provisions will be absent. These changes are bound to affect over 50% of Indian household who derived its livelihood from farm lands and about 10.9 crore direct stake holders, the rural households in India.

Here is now what the LARR looks like:

  1.  No provision for mandatory consent clause. With the suspension of Consent Clause, not just the SIA may suffer but also the land owners could be cheated as there will be no need for spelling out the land use.
  2. As per the changes brought in the ordinance, multi-crop irrigated land can also be acquired for these purposes.
  3. With a cap on the acquisition of multi-crop/agro land been omitted in the Ordinance, the provisions relating to the food security will be absent.
  4. Land remaining unused for more than even 5 years will not be liable for return to its owner.
  5. With the provisions requiring Public hearing and Gram Sabha done away with, the Panchayat will have no role. It could be throwaway back to the days of archaic 1894 law where forced acquisitions were order of the day.
  6. Govt is wrongly citing Section 105, LARR 2013 as the reason to bring in an ordinance. The provisions of LARR, 2013 were not applicable if the land was acquired for the projects under 13 Central govt Acts that included the Coal Bearing Areas Acquisition and Development Act 1957, the National Highways Act 1956, Land Acquisition (Mines) Act 1885,  Atomic Energy Act 1962, the Indian Tramways Act 1886, the Railways Act 1989, the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1958, the Petroleum and Minerals Pipelines (Acquisition of Right of User in Land) Act 1962 and the Damodar Valley Corporation Act 1948. The Electricity Act 2003, Requisitioning and Acquisition of Immovable Property Act 1952, the Resettlement of Displaced Persons (Land Acquisition) Act 1948 and the Metro Railways (Construction of Works) Act 1978. But Modi govt’s defense of bringing in an Ordinance to provide fair compensation of acquisition under the said 13 Acts doesn’t cut the ice for they chose to hide one simple detail. Section 105 states the exemption of LARR on the land to be acquired for the purpose of 13 Acts. But at the same time 105(4) states enough checks and balances to ensure that the acquisition was fair. Here is what Sec 105(4) of the LARR, 2013 reads: “A copy of every notification proposed to be issued under 105(3) (acquisition of land), shall be laid before each House of Parliament, while it is in session…and if, both Houses agree in disapproving the issue of the notification (land acquisition) or both Houses agree in making modification, the notification (of land acquisition) shall not be issued or, as the case may be, shall be issued only in such modified form as may be agreed upon by the Houses of Parliament.”    Perhaps a notification by the govt order amending the rule would have been handful if the concern was to acquire under those 13 heads.

What needs to be asked from the ‘strong’ government is its choice to stand on a loose soil and build a windmill on it. Certainly the changes brought in LARR, 2013 through Ordinance will devastate the farmers and the rural dwellers but will hit the Industry equally harder, if not more, with a certainty of being an incomplete everything unleashed by a seemingly hurried and nervous govt.

The author is a journalist turned story teller.