An apex body of several mass organisations across the country, the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) — in a commentary circulated to activists, experts and concerned citizens — has said that the new land acquisition Act, passed in Parliament recently, has large number of loopholes that will only make the corporate houses happy. Excerpts:
Land Acquisition Act (LAA), 1894 has been replaced by the Right to Fair Compensation, Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (LARR), 2013, seven years after two separate legislations, Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2007, and Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill, 2007, were introduced by the UPA in Parliament in wake of Nandigram, Singur, Kalinganagar and many other militant opposition to land acquisition by farmers. The Act claims to better reflect the government’s commitment to securing a legal guarantee for the rights of project affected persons (PAPs), even as ensuring greater transparency in the land acquisition process. It claims that the Act will ensure — in concert with local institutions of self-government — a humane, participative, informed, consultative and transparent process for land acquisition.
Before the Act was passed, NAPM had put forward following demands:
- Repeal LAA and enact a comprehensive national legislation on development planning inclusive of just and fair livelihood-based rehabilitation of minimally-affected people, enunciating the principle of least displacement, just rehabilitation and decentralized development planning based on Article 243 of the Constitution of India, Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA), 1996, and Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006.
- Ensure that the urban poor, who are unprotected workers, receive their due right to land, shelter and livelihood. There should be strict ceiling on urban lands and displacement and rehabilitation through a nexus of builders-politicians-bureaucrats should be stopped. At the same time, self-reliant, affordable housing should be promoted by the state, involving the cooperative sector, for the needy urban population. There should be a separate enactment for addressing the problems of evictions, securing land rights and addressing resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) issues of the urban poor.
- Issue a white paper on all types of land acquisition and displacement caused and rehabilitation completed since Independence. The white paper should make public the extent of land utilized, unutilized and land acquired for public purpose, but remains occupied by sick and non-functional industries and other infrastructure projects.
- Ensure a just rehabilitation of all PAPs in all sectors as a national policy, leaving scope for finalization by communities. As nearly 10 crore people have been displaced, one should address the concern of the displaced people since Independence. For that, a national R&R commission should be set up.
- No agricultural land, whether single crop or multiple crops, should be forcibly acquired keeping in view the food security of the country.
- In the name of public purpose, the state should not forcibly acquire any land for private corporation or their PPP project.
- Consent by majority of gram sabha members (or an equivalent body in the urban areas) should be obtained in all matters contained in the proposed law.
- Any unutilized land should be returned to the land owners.
Need to change the law
The impetus to repeal LAA was derived from nationwide opposition to land acquisition and deaths of farmers and workers while opposing land acquisition. The government and corporations understood that it would not be easy for them to acquire massive lands without any consent of the land owners and those dependent on land for their livelihood, given the mass consciousness among them. India Infrastructure Report, 2009 stated that nearly 70 per cent of the investment by India Inc was stuck due to problems related with the land acquisition, and hence it became imperative to change the law.
NAPM made significant contribution towards drafting of a national R&R policy in 1990s, and proposed a national development planning Act as a comprehensive legislation for just and fair, livelihood-based rehabilitation of minimally-affected people, enunciating the principle of least displacement, just rehabilitation and a decentralized development planning, based on Article 243 of the Constitution, PESA and FRA. A modified version of this proposal was accepted by the national advisory council. The LARR is a comprehensive Act rather than the two separate Acts dealing with the land acquisition and R&R, as in 2007 and 2009.
- The parliamentary standing committee recommended that all 16 central Acts, used for land acquisition, should be brought under the purview of the new Act, to make all equal before law (Article 14 of the Constitution). However, Section 105, Schedule IV, excludes 13 central Acts, including the Industrial Development Act, Land Acquisition (Mines) Act, National Highways Act, from the purview of the LARR. This means that 90 per cent of the land acquired as on today will continue like before.
- Section 2 of LARR has an expansive definition of public purpose and infrastructure, and also a clause which leaves the discretionary power to declare anything as infrastructure and for public purpose. Infrastructure has been equated with public purpose, which is ironical, given that an expert committee is to make a decision about public purpose. Every land to be acquired is serving a public purpose of one kind or another. Single or multi-crop land is also serving a public purpose. Hence, a limited definition of public purpose was required, not an all-encompassing one, including private profit projects.
- The most regressive part of LARR is the role of government in acquisition for private and public-private partnership (PPP) projects (Section 2.2). In an era of neo-liberal economic reforms, private projects with corporate investment and interest are taking a much larger toll of land and other rich natural resources, even as uprooting people by destroying the communities which have been living together for generations. This must come to an end. This can happen only if the state plays the role of a facilitator. The state cannot transfer valuable nature-based livelihood resources, especially land and water, at the cost of livelihood of working people, and for the sake of profiteering in the garb of public interest and public purpose.
- One of the key features advertised in favour of LARR is 70 per cent consent of land owners for PPP projects and 80 per cent consent of land owners for the private projects (Section 2.2 b). However, as with consent, government has no business to acquire land for the private corporations’ profit in the name of public purpose. Except for scheduled areas, Section 41.3, LARR mandates no consent of the gram sabha in government-sponsored public purpose projects. This is completely unacceptable, given that, post-Independence, maximum acquisitions have taken place for public sector companies, leading to massive displacement.
- Ironically, while food processing and other agriculture related secondary and tertiary sector industries have been brought in the public purpose definition, agriculture has not been considered public purpose, something which would have meant no acquisition of agricultural land. The decision on quantum of agricultural land to be acquired has been left to state governments to decide (Section 10).
- Section 101 says that land, if not used till five years, from the date of taking possession, should be returned to the original landowners or to their heirs or to the land bank. While welcoming this, it should be ensured that ownership of the land should be with those who tilled the land, and if the land remains unused and unutilized, it must be returned to the owners, or alternatively distributed amongst the PAPs. It should be transferred to land bank, which in the past has promoted large-scale acquisition and illegally transfer of land to corporations for real estate and other purposes.
- Section 24 deals with the retrospective application of R&R provisions. Nearly 10 crore people have been displaced since Independence and with a dismal 17-20 percent rate of R&R. There should have been retrospective application of the provisions of the new Act, A national R&R commission should have been established to deal with the claims of the PAPs. Also LAA needed to be repealed completely, as two Acts dealing with land acquisition would bring in legal challenges and also negate the whole purpose of bringing in a new legislation with focus on consent-based land acquisition.
- Coming to R&R benefits, Section 26-30, Schedule II, promotes the principle of cash compensation rather than livelihood-based R&R. It is a retrogressive step, since it negates land and employment based R&R as mandated in the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal (NWDT) Award, and various other projects. The proposed provisions of compensating employment with money and high rates for land acquired will only lead to speculative land market and will destroy the fragile economy of the rural hinterland which will lead to further urban migration.
- Land for land provision is limited to one acre for general category farmers and two-and-a-half acre for scheduled caste (SC) and scheduled tribe (ST) families in case of irrigation projects. By its own definition, marginal farmers are those who have one hectare of un-irrigated or half hectare of irrigated land. Hence, the provision of one acre land in command area is nothing but a cruel joke on farmers.
- Section 26-30, Schedule I, deals with the various provisions of calculation of compensation for land acquired, but the power remains with the collector. It would have been fairer to set up a land price determination commission which would have had participation of affected communities and also taken in account the various factors.
- Much hype has been generated that two times and four times of compensation amount would be paid in urban areas and rural areas respectively. However, Schedule I mentions of a sliding scale, to be fixed by state governments, which will mean that farmers in rural areas won’t get four times the market price of the land.
- Section 40 of the Act restricts the use of urgency clause to defence of India or national security or emergency arising out of natural calamities. However, the provisions of social impact assessment (SIA), consultations and consent of gram sabha or PAPs, or public hearings will not be applicable, except for the scheduled areas, and that too can be waived by the appropriate government. On one hand restricting the urgency provisions is welcome, but expanding it to include anything related to defence or national security is unacceptable, since peace time operations and requirements do not need urgency, and such projects must follow due process of law. Activities like constructions of cantonments, housing units, golf courses, play grounds, firing ranges etc., for defence and security forces during the peace time need not apply urgency provisions of the Act.
- The Act almost totally excludes the situation in the urban areas, where there is no land acquisition, but eviction, brutal and unjust, for any and every elitist real estate development of infrastructure without guaranteeing right to shelter, right to life and livelihood. There is a silverline though: Schedule II.3 provides for making available for purchase 20 per cent of developed land for landowning families in urbanisation projects, and Sec 3.c.vi defines PAPs includes “a family residing on any land in the urban areas for preceding three years or more prior to the acquisition of the land or whose primary source of livelihood for three years prior to the acquisition of the land is affected by the acquisition of such land”.
There are many more detailed points in the Act which need attention, but overall, the Act doesn’t protect land rights or deals with the historic injustices committed in the name of development and public purpose. It is solely aimed at facilitating land acquisition for corporates without any stock taking of the land acquired, used or lying vacant and so on. The rapacious use of LAA by the government to secure land for ‘development’ projects has caused over 10 crore people to be displaced from their land, livelihoods and shelters.
The country is dotted with communities resisting state-sponsored land grab which resonate the demand for a just law to ensure that there is no forced acquisition of land and resources, including minerals and ground water. The government must respond to the voices from movements across places such as Narmada, Koel Karo, Singur, Nandigram, Sonbhadra, Chindwara, Bhavnagarm, Kalinga Nagar, Kashipur, Raigarh, Srikakulam and mining areas in Central India with genuine efforts to address the longstanding crisis concerning land acquisition and R&R.
If political parties are serious about addressing the conflicts over land and other natural resources then they must listen to the voices of those struggling, or else it will only aggravate these conflicts across the country. The need of growth, infrastructure and urbanisation can’t be fulfilled on the graveyard of millions. A pro-people development planning Act with complete participation of the gram sabhas will go a long way in stopping the massive corporate corruption and lead to decentralization of power having an overall impact on politics of the country.