Land Acquisition Bill : A Compromised Consensus

Two new provisions in the Land Acquisition Bill promise to protect farmers. Are they foolproof? 

a-compromised-consensusAfter 19 months of intense negotiations between the ruling United Progressive Alliance Government and opposition parties, the Land Acquisition (Rehabilitation and Resettlement) Bill of 2011 is close to being passed by Parliament. On April 18, the Government claimed that all major political parties have reached a “broad consensus” on the Bill. Though several political parties, including the four Left parties, still have apprehensions and oppose the Bill in its current form, the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has declared support after the Government accepted two of its key suggestions.

It aims to fill major lacunae in the existing Land Acquisition Act of 1894, framed during the colonial era, by introducing provisions for resettlement and rehabilitation of families whose land is acquired by the Government for development purposes.
The two new provisions to be added to the Bill aim to provide further protection to land owners.

Sivaram Krishna of Sakti, a non-profit in Hyderabad, says the provision of sharing compensation with original farmers who sold land after introduction of the Bill will not benefit tenant farmers, who actually depend on the land for living. Except for West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh, no other State has proper records of their tenant farmers, Krishna adds.

One provision resists land acquisition. It says the landholders should have the right to lease their land to developers instead of giving away their ownership. It enables State Governments to enact laws in this regard as leasing of land is a State subject. At present, the Government acquires land and gives it on lease to developers, and the farmer becomes landless. Analysts say the provision will allow farmers to retain ownership over land while earning a steady annual income by leasing it to companies.
The other provision says if the Government acquires land that changed hands after the introduction of the Bill on September 5, 2011, the compensation amount would be divided equally between the current landowner and the original landholder. There have been reports of large-scale speculative purchase of land to reap high compensation amount the Bill promises. Unlike the existing Act which compensates the landholder at the prevailing market rate, the Bill offers compensation at double the market price in urban areas and four times the price in rural areas.
Experts say the two suggestions are in “immediate” interest of farmers but they do not deal with the larger issue of displacement, food security and widespread acquisition of fertile and tribal land. “The right to lease is in the interest of farmers. But it encourages acquisition of fertile land,” says Madhuresh, organiser of the National Alliance of People’s Movements. A farmer will not fear losing ancestral land and lease it out to get yearly benefit from it. This will promote diversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural activities and threaten food security, he adds.
Sivaram Krishna of Sakti, a non-profit in Hyderabad, says the provision of sharing compensation with original farmers who sold land after introduction of the Bill will not benefit tenant farmers, who actually depend on the land for living. Except for West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh, no other State has proper records of their tenant farmers, Krishna adds.
Analysts say the Government must address these concerns before going ahead with the proposed law, particularly at a time when it is talking about food security and plans to table a Bill in this regard.


Old and New Controversial Provisions

Among the controversial provisions on which the political parties, which met for the second time in April this year to iron out their differences, have reached consensus are an enabling provision for States to enact laws on the leasing of land, ensuring the right to fair compensation for owners and tenants as well as transparency in acquisition.

The Left parties, which insisted on 100 per cent consent from landowners as well as those affected, were unhappy and said they would push for amendments when the UPA moves the revised Bill for approval.Indian industry was not enthused by the plan.
“This Bill, as per our understanding, will further elongate the process of land acquisition for industry. It would take from three to five years on an average to acquire land. Moreover, we understand that the Bill still provides for consent from 80 per cent of the affected families, which will delay the process and also act as a deterrent for the industry,” A. Didar Singh, secretary general of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said in a statement.
Similarly, the Confederation of Indian Industry lobby group said in a release that “agglomerating land from numerous owners is not a task which the corporate sector can do effectively, especially in the absence of proper land records and with small, scattered land-holdings”.
The UPA Government wants to make it mandatory for companies buying land to win the approval of 80 per cent of land holders; for public-private partnership (PPP) projects, 70 per cent of landowners need to give consent, according to the draft Bill approved by the cabinet in December.
The new Bill seeks to replace the colonial-era Land Acquisition Act, 1894, that allows the State to acquire land at cheap rates if it believes there is a larger public benefit such as the creation of jobs.
The issue had become contentious after efforts to forcibly acquire farmland for industrial projects resulted in violent protests in West Bengal and Orissa.
The Government also agreed to another suggestion by the BJP, the Janata Dal (United) and the Shiv Sena to offer adequate compensation to original owners who have recently sold their land.
“There were worries that a lot of land has been purchased after 5 September 2011, (when the Bill was first tabled in Parliament) for the purposes of speculation,” Jairam Ramesh, Minister for Rural Development said. “They feel that this land has been purchased in anticipation of this Bill being passed, so that guys who purchase it end up getting full benefits of compensation (and) the landowner or the farmer does not get anything.”
The Centre agreed to introduce a provision in the law to ensure that the extra compensation given under it is shared with the original landowner if a State Government acquired land that had been purchased after 5 September 2011, he said.
The other suggestion was to compensate tenants of landowners whose land had been acquired. Previously, tenants who tilled land belonging to owners were eligible only for rehabilitation packages and not compensation. The Government has now agreed to give compensation to the tenants as well.
“Land use should be socially desirable, scientific and pro-people,” said Raja from the Left. “At a time the Government is talking about food security, permitting agricultural land for other purposes in the name of public purposes and public-private participation is not advisable.”
– Extracted from Livemint


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