A day-long National Conference held in Delhi on Unravelling Regressive and Anti-People amendments to land, forests, environment, coastal and other laws, attended, among others, by Hannan Mollah (All India Kisan Sabha), Medha Patkar (Narmada Bachao Andolan and National Alliance of People’s Movements), Sudha Bhardwaj (Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan), Prafulla Samantara (NAPM), Ashok Chaudhary (All India Union of Forest Working People), T Peter (National Fishworkers Forum), Arvind Anjum (Visthapit Mukti Vahini), Kailash Meena (NAPM), and Anil Chaudhary (Bhumi Adhikar Andolan), reached the conclusion that changes brought to the land laws, Forest Right Act, Coastal Regulation Zone, Environment and Mining Laws are all aimed at facilitating corporate loot and transfer of the precious natural resources from common people of this country.
The Conference had presentations by environmentalist Kanchi Kohli, Meera Sanghamitra (NAPM), Tushar Das, Debashish Shyamal (NFF), Amit Kumar (NAPM), Alok Shukla (Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan), Arvind Murti and Ajai Kumar Sharma. It was addressed by noted lawyers Prashant Bhushan, Sanjay Parikh from Delhi, Anand Yagnik from Gujarat, and Pratyush Mishra from Madhya Pradesh.
The following note was released at the conference:
Government’s conspiracy to pass the anti-farmer Land Ordinance and Bill has failed miserably due to nationwide protests by affected communities but now the Central government has passed the buck to state governments and has given them power to frame new laws and rules by which they can continue acquiring land forcefully from people and make it available to corporate.
Here’s a brief analysis of state amendments and modern strategies of land grabbing:
- State amendments extending anti-people land ordinance in states
Presently, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, and Jharkhand governments have brought the amendments to central land acquisition act, 2013. It is of no surprise that most of them have brought the amendments retrospectively in effect from 1st January 2014 nullifying any application of central act in their state.
Exempting large categories of projects from Consent provisions, SIA, Objections, Local bodies participation, objections etc. Like in ordinance, a large number of projects, primarily linear category projects like industrial corridors, expressways, highways etc. are exempted from very important consent provisions, social impact assessment, participation of representative of local bodies like Gram Sabha in SIA study and expert appraisal processes, public hearing, objections, and safeguard provisions to safeguard food security. All these provisions were termed as a core spirit of the central act. Further to this, making Collector a sole authority to make enquiry to their satisfaction will be dangerous trend to suppress people’s voices and extending widespread corruption in upcoming cases.
Dilution of return of unutilized land provisions:
The central act tried to address the historical injustice and made provisions to return unutilized land back to the people when if it remained unutilized for more than 5 years. It also talked for fresh award if the compensation to majority of affected people not paid after declaration of Award. In almost all state amendments, it is tried to either extend the period of making the acquisition void and changing the payment of compensation to beneficiaries by declaration of award and depositing the compensation with the court or the State treasury.
Inclusion of Voluntary Land Acquisition and addition of section 31A as amendments:
Andhra Pradesh and Telangana not only diluted the central act provisions but also brought provisions of voluntary land acquisition under which they can enter into mutual agreement withland owners and payment of lumpsum amount to other affected persons for R&R. The central act identified not only land owners but also placed other affected persons under purview of R&R and consent provisions. This amendment will reject the purpose of central act and will bring money and muscle power again in centre to grab more and more land. Other states have brought section 31A to pay the lumpsum amount in case of projects exempted from SIA and Consent provisions as listed in 10A.
Gujarat removed Parliament’s role from invoking urgency clause for land acquisition.
Making mockery of the Parliament, Gujarat Government ruled out the role of Parliament in approving the urgency clause mentioned in section 40 of the central act. This reflects the continued tendencies to undermine democracy and established procedures, as has been done in past while passing State Acts like Special Investment Region Act.
Tamil Nadu has gone much ahead and brought fifth schedule to exclude land acquisition for industrial purposes in the state. Tamil Nadu has silently brought out the exemption to whole land acquisition for industrial purpose making no hard work as other states did for tinkering with different provisions of central act. It’s a complete denial of taking consent from people, providing R&R, participation of local bodies in approval and rejection of projects etc.
- The illusion of PPP
Although PPP stands for Public-Private-Partnership, it is often seen that the term “Public Purpose” is used to just cover up “Private Interests” to claim rights over resources and profits. In PPP projects, taxpayers money is spent while acquiring land and creating infrastructure whereas in the profit-making stage private players take away the maximum share. The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (RFCTLARR 2013) mentions at least 70% consent of landowners for PPP projects. Earlier, the Ordinance and now the state amendments has removed the consent clause for PPP paving way for many private projects that are running under the garb of PPP. It is advisable to check the real motive behind any such project along with their need for acquisition.
- Land pooling – hope or hoax?
State Governments are misleading farmers and communities by using the system of land pooling instead of acquisition. It’s just a clever use of terminology and more or less works in the same way. However, using the term, ‘land pooling’ can legally bypass RFCTLARRA 2013 provisions and can end up being more disastrous than acquisition. Especially among landless agricultural labour.
Amravati, new capital city of Andhra Pradesh has used this model for acquiring more than 12,200 hectares (ha) of prime agricultural land on the banks of River Krishna, only for core capital city which alone will displace more than 90,000 marginal farmers, lease holders, agricultural workers and other unorganized workers. They comprise 80% of the total population. The remaining 20% landowners will get residential plots, commercial plots and yearly compensation. Later, the Capital Region will expand to 706,800 ha displacing more than 50 lakh people.
Special Investment Region (SIR) Act, 2009 of Gujarat is trying to use land-pooling for creating the Dholera Smart City, 150 kilometers from Ahmedabad. 92,200 ha from 22 villages belonging to 50,000 people from a strong agricultural community are notified for land-pooling. Villagers of the Dholera region have protested and have filed a PIL in the High Court challenging the constitutionality of the SIR Act. Court orders have been favourable and the Gujarat government is asked to halt any fresh processes in the region. Likewise, Rajasthan, Punjab, and Haryana Government have also brought the land pooling scheme in their respective states to extend the land grabbing for corporate and real estate.
- Land purchase policy
States like Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh have brought other ways to take away land from the people under the name of Consent Land Purchase Policy. Under this, Government or their organisation will directly purchase land from land owners and pay a lumpsum amount as decided by respective states under different purposes.
The whole consent land purchase policy only talks about land owners and completely ignores the broad definition of affected persons or families which are mentioned in central land act. Which shows the extension of historical injustice with landless people, agricultural workers, and other community depended on land owners for their livelihood.
Chhattisgarh has specifically mentioned the different compensation rates based on land category. Ignoring food security which is an important chapter in central act and sought to be protected, Chhattisgarh has brought in the multi cropped irrigated agricultural land under the purview of land purchase.
All the above states have formulated this policy in the garb of expediting the processes of land acquisition and shying away from their responsibility of taking consent from people first, and then providing complete and just rehabilitation and resettlement. Till 2000, more than 60 million people were displaced due to development projects as stated by High Level Committee on Tribal commissioned by Government of India.
Odisha state has also brought the consent land purchase policy but under the purview of section 46 of central land act. This also shows their unwillingness to address the displacement and loss of livelihoods of affected persons and families from development projects. As it is the responsibility of state to treat everyone equal and not categorized displaced persons on the basis of displaced under small or big projects.
- State land acquisition rules & bills – centre gives free hand to state governments, arbitrary land acquisition follows
The Draft Rajasthan Land Acquisition Bill 2015 bypasses Social Impact Assessment, reduces consent for PPP projects to 60% and also excludes infrastructure projects, which includes almost everything, from consent provisions. Communities in Rajasthan have vehemently protested against the Bill. The Bill is a glaring example of how the free hand given to states can result in lopsided acquisition laws which are much worse than the Land Ordinance.
Rules or Bills made by States must be critically examined. For instance, following deviations from the spirit of the Central RFCTLARRA 2013 and the Constitution were noticed.
i. Return of unutilized land: The RFCTLARRA 2013 provides for return of unutilized land to landowners or their legal heirs and also gives states the discretion to add unclaimed land to the state land bank. But in the new rules, some states like Jharkhand, Karnataka, Odisha, Sikkim & Telengana have unnecessarily complicated the conditions for claiming such land and hence have facilitated direct transfer of such land to the state land bank. The spirit of land bank was originally to provide land to landless which has now changed to facilitate transfer of land to industries and private players only.
ii. Acquisition of irrigated multi-cropped land for non-agricultural purpose: RFCTLARRA 2013 gives clear priority to ‘no acquisition’ of irrigated multi-cropped land but states like Odisha and Assam facilitate acquisition of agricultural land by introducing the provision of ‘develop an equivalent area of wasteland for agricultural purposes’ in lieu of prime agricultural land. Whereas states like Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala & Telengana have defined the maximum limit to which agricultural land can be acquired. Jharkhand allows acquisition of up to 2% of total irrigated multi-cropped land of the state while Telengana has kept the maximum limit to 15% of present cultivable area. States like Gujarat have also facilitated the conversion of agricultural land to non-agricultural purposes by diluting the clearance processes for such conversion.
iii. Role of Local Institutions like Gram Sabhas: While RFCTLARR 2013 was drafted to clearly empower local institutions, many state-rules have tried to dilute their power. Karnataka has limited the consent of Gram Sabhas only to Scheduled Areas. Madhya Pradesh has shockingly made the District Collector the sole authority for constituting the Expert Group for evaluating the Social Impact Assessment Report. Even the 1- compuslory representative from the local institution like Gram Sabha will now be nominated by the Collector thus seriously paralyzing the voice of project-affected communities.
iv. Compensation and Resettlement & Rehabilitation of displaced: The RFCTLARR 2013 was clearly defined to be more than just a Land Acquisition Law and to include Fair and Transparent Compensation, Resettlement and Rehabilitation in the process. But the Draft Land Acquisition Bill of Rajasthan tries to do away with R&R by making provisions for compensating all in monetary terms. Other states have expressed similar interest to make their own LA Bill and introduce such anti-people provisions.
The four-times compensation guaranteed by the RFCTLARRA is subverted in states like Madhya Pradesh, and Haryana who have kept the same multiplication factor (double compensation) for both rural and urban areas. Only Assam, Karnataka and Tripura have kept the highest multiplication factors, which can result in four times compensation of market value of the land.
- Private negotiations to deprive people from all safeguards
To further ease the transfer of people’s land to corporate plunder, Private Negotiations have been given a further push. The limit of acquisition of land through Private Negotiation with owners of land in different states is alarmingly kept high in which the R&R will also not be applicable. The power to define the limit has been given to individual states under Section 2(3) and further in detail under section 46 of the RFCTLARRA 2013. States like Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar, and Telengana has kept the limit from 800 ha to 2100 ha. Tripura and Chhattisgarh have kept the limit as low as between 1 ha to 4 ha. However, it needs to be monitored as Private Negotiations may happen outside the purview of government and then to maintain the limits is practically questionable.