Representatives from tens of people’s organizations* in Delhi have formally represented to the chairperson and members of the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to Land Bill 2015, making a plea against dilution of the progressive provisions of the land acquisition Act, passed in 2013. Text of the representation, prepared at a meeting organized by Bhumi Adhikar Andolan, the apex body formed to fight against the dilution:
Changes in the provisions of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation & Resettlement Act, 2013 deprive farmers of their land, better compensation and rehabilitation and resettlement benefits.
Government’s claim that “procedural difficulties in the acquisition of lands required for important national projects required to be mitigated” is manifestly misplaced given the fact that Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation & Resettlement Act, 2013 came into effect from January 1, 2014. The fact is that the First Ordinance was promulgated December 31, 2014. It is clear that till May 21, 2014, there was no “procedural difficulties in the acquisition of lands” under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation & Resettlement Act, 2013.
Till date Government has not been able to point out these so called “procedural difficulties”. Government contention that “In order to remove them (procedural difficulties), certain amendments were made in the Act while further strengthening the provisions to protect the interests of the ‘affected families’” is evidently misleading. A bare reading of the definition of ‘affected families’ in the 2013 Act and the reference to ‘affected families’ in The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Second Amendment) Bill 2015 shows that this claim is without any factual basis.
Government has made misleading claim with regard to the proposed amendment and the Ordinance when it states that “Compensation in accordance with the First Schedule and rehabilitation and resettlement specified in the Second and Third Schedules of the Act are extended to the thirteen Acts mentioned in the Fourth Schedule of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation & Resettlement Act, 2013, namely, – (1) The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958, (2) The Atomic Energy Act, 1962, (3) The Damodar Valley Corporation Act, 1948, (3) The Indian Tramways Act, 1886, (4) The Land Acquisition (Mines)Act, 1885, (6) The Metro Railways (Construction of Works)Act, 1978, (7) The National Highways Act, 1956; ( 8) The Petroleum and Minerals Pipelines (Acquisition of Right of User in Land) Act, 1962; (9). The Requisitioning and Acquisition of Immovable Property Act, 1952; (10) The Resettlement of Displaced Persons (Land Acquisition) Act, 1948; (11) The Coal Bearing Areas Acquisition and Development Act, 1957 (12) The Electricity Act, 2003; (13) The Railways Act, 1989.”
The fact is that compensation provision was already applicable to the Fourth Schedule. The fact is that the proposed amendment is limiting its application to the Schedule “with effect from January 1, 2015″. In order to make it pro-people it should be made applicable with retrospective effect.
Exemption from ‘consent’, “Social Impact Assessment” and “Special Provisions for Safeguarding Food Security”
The proposed amendments in the Land Act of 2013 wherein exemption from ‘consent’, “Social Impact Assessment” and “Special Provisions for Safeguarding Food Security” for exempting (i) defence, (ii) rural infrastructure, (iii) affordable housing, (iv) industrial corridors, and (v) infrastructure projects including PPP projects where the Central Government owns the land. This is reinstating the Eminent Domain or the power of the State to forcibly acquire Land without the owner’s consent, this amendment in effect brings back the draconian provision in the Colonial Land Acquisition Act of 1894 and also removes even the minimal guarantees provided by the Land Acquisition Act of 2013. The amendment will remove distinction between acquisition for state and for Private companies. It is also obvious that most of the land acquisitions are to be facilitated under these 5 purposes. 39% of Land Acquisitions is to be done under industrial corridor purposes. The Amendment broadens scope for unbridled acquisition and exempts all the Projects involving largest take-over of land from seeking consent of the affected people. It questions and creates doubt over the concept of ‘welfare nation state’ that ensures justice for all.
Bhumi Adhikar Andolan recommends that prior informed consent of the affected Gram Sabhas / Area Sabhas should be taken in all kind of projects. This consent should be taken after the Gram Sabha or Area Sabha as the case may be has been provided all the necessary and applicable information, including the nature of the project and its finances; the likely benefits of the project, in the nature of social justice, employment, infrastructure, etc and; the Social Impact Assessment report (mandatory and binding having no scope to be over-ruled), EIA and R&R Plan etc.
It is further recommended that after one meeting of the Gram Gabha / Area Ward Sabha where this is presented, a second should be held at which the Gram Sabha / Area Ward Sabha’s informed consent is sought. If this is not granted, the project should not be allowed to continue.
Bhumi Adhikar Andolan opposes the amendments exempting above above-mentioned five categories of Land Use from the special provision to safeguard food security through protection to multi-crop irrigated land. This will severely compromise Food security as it will now be possible to easily acquire multi-cropped fertile land as well as productive rain-fed and semi-arid land including for industrial corridors, infrastructure projects including the PPP projects.
It is highly recommended to protect the land needs of multi-crop land, irrigated land including rain-fed, dry-land, semi-arid land as well as paddy lands, common property resources to ensure food and livelihood security and no acquisition of such land be allowed.
Expansion of industrial corridors
The Amendments provide expansion of Industrial Corridors up to 1 km on both sides of the designated railway line or roads is quite alarming. This will open up vast tracts of agricultural land for potential acquisition and bound to have deeply disturbing impact on food security of the country. This will only be increasing the involvements of land and real estate mafia. Bhumi Adhikar Andolan opposes this amendment and recommends taking off the amendment from the proposed bill.
Compulsory employment to at least one member of each family of farm labour
The provision for mandatory employment is rather diluting the provisions of Principal Act that provided compulsory employment to the members of the affected families which involved agricultural labours, sharecroppers, landless, artisans and whoever has been working in the affected area. It is recommended therefore to remain the provisions of Principal Act intact regarding the affected families. It is further recommended to strengthen the employment provisions to ensure employment to all adults (men and women). The wages accrued in such a job should not be less than three times the minimum wages prevalent in the State and should be indexed to inflation.
It is further recommended that a one-time rehabilitation grant for loss of livelihood should be provided to every adult member of the eligible displaced/affected family (as defined in the Principal Act), equivalent to 750 days of minimum wages admissible for unskilled workers. This is provided to cover a gestation period of around three years to enable the family to establish a new livelihood. This amount should be placed in a bank account in fixed deposit in the joint name of male and female heads of household. The interest may be freely used for consumption purposes, but the capital can only be used for purchase of productive assets or in other ways connected with the establishment of secure livelihoods.
Private Entity replacing private company
Government is arguing that prior to the proposed amendment, the provisions of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation & Resettlement Act 2013 extended to a ‘private company’ but after the enactment of Companies Act, 2013, a ‘private company’ means a company having a minimum paid-up share capital of one lakh rupees or such higher paid-up share capital, thereby restricting the provisions of the Act to such companies only and excluding other form of companies like proprietorships, partnerships, corporations, nonprofit organizations, etc. Therefore, in place of the term ‘private company’, the term ‘private entity’ has been substituted thereby including all non-governmental entities. This amendment widens scope for all entities that can grab land and will allow Government to acquire land for every private entity. Bhumi Adhikar Andolan opposes this amendment and recommends taking this off.
Return of unutilised land
The Amendment increases the duration of keeping acquired land unutilised for ‘a period specified for setting up any project or five years, whichever is later’. This Amendment will encourage speculative activity and ensure holding of land for a prolonged period even if unutilised. This provides further space to land mortgage and unaccounted money. The CAG Reports have already brought out as to how such land is used to mortgage and raise huge sums of money. Also, keeping untilised land for longer period serves no purpose, while new land acquisitions are being exercised in the name of wider ‘public purposes’. Bhumi Adhikar Andolan recommends that the existing unused land lying with the central and state governments must be used in the first place and Land should be reverted to the original owners if it is not used for the purpose acquired within a period of 5 years from the date of acquisition and further processes to be assisted with the original land owners for re-conversion of land in its original form when it was acquired.
The proposed amendments in the Land Act reveal the incestuous relationship between business enterprises and the ruling parties.
The proposed amendments weaken democratic institutions. The legislation in question does not appreciate that it is the dependence of political parties on non-state actors for financing elections that determines their performance in legislatures. It is a flawed legislation which is compromising the political outcomes through an inherent political engineering which is co-terminus with property rights based citizens’ rights.
It is an act of rewriting the political geography wherein residual democratic content from the existing institutions are being hollowed out.
It is incumbent on the Joint Committee to consider the recommendations of Smt Sumitra Mahajan headed Parliamentary Standing on Rural Development and discussions in the Parliament prior to the enactment of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation & Resettlement Act, 2013 to regard the consultative process followed by the Parliamentary Standing Committee involving all related stakeholders.
As long as non-state, undemocratic and artificial actors shape the legislative outcome no matter who wins the credit for the fate of the proposed Bill, democracy is not going to be a winner because these actors are turning legislatures into a forum for legalizing land grab in myriad disguises.
In view of the above and the enclosed comments on the proposed Bills, Joint Committee as an institution should not only recommend and shape democratic and legislative strategies and wise choices but also the goal of the Bill and leave its own imprint by making non-state actors subservient to democratic consent. It can take the first step in this direction by widening its consultation in each constituency before finalizing its report.
We hope you will take these issues into consideration and wish to give further submissions and testimony to the Joint Committee on the proposed Bill when we get the opportunity to appear before it.
*Vijoo Krishnan, Krishna Prasad – All India Kisan Sabha, 36 Canning Lane; Ashok Choudhary, Munnilal –All India Union of Forest Working People; Raghiv Asim – All India Kisan Sabha, Ajoy Bhavan; Bhupinder Singh Rawat – National Alliance of Peoples’ Movements; Prafulla Samantara, Loksakti Abhiyan, Odisha and National Alliance of Peoples’ Movements; Roma, Shanta Bhattacharya – Kaimur Kshetra Mahila Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, UP; Dr Sunilam, Adv Aradhna Bhargava – Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, MP and National Alliance of Peoples’ Movements; Dayamani Barla – Adivasi Moolniwasi Asthitva Raksha Manch, Jharkhand; Rajendra Ravi, Anita Kapoor – NAPM-Delhi; Virendra Vidrohi – INSAF; Deep Dingh Shekhawat- Jan Sangharsh Samanvay Samiti; Ulka Mahajan- Sarvahara Jan Andola; and Anil Chowdhary – Peace