BHOPAL: As the newly-enacted Land Acquisition Bill goes to the President for its final assent, Union minister for rural development Jairam Ramesh clarified on Tuesday that acquisition of land for another major irrigation project like the Sardar Sarovar Dam was not feasible any longer.
“India cannot go through constructing another Sardar Sarovar Dam,” Jairam Ramesh said while discussing the Land Acquisition Bill with reporters here in the Madhya Pradesh capital on Tuesday afternoon. Ramesh argued that enormous and major irrigation projects are no longer practicable as it requires large-scale land acquisition and displacements of habitations.
“The India of 2013 is different from our country in 1979. All large irrigation projects have been shelved including the one planned in Jharkhand,” he argued. The Sardar Sarovar Dam is the largest irrigation project in the country covering the four states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Land acquisition, displacement and rehabilitation of ousted families still remains a source of conflict and dispute between the state governments and citizens.
When TOI asked Ramesh if the provisions under the new act would make land acquisition for a major project like the Sardar Sarovar Dam any easier, the Union minister dismissed that such a situation would even arise.
Ramesh said that the government of Madhya Pradesh which is still addressing the rehabilitation of affected families of the Sardar Sarovar project contacted him as the Lok Sabha passed the Bill. “Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan spoke to me and sent officials who said that certain provisions of the bill would be difficult to implement for state governments. I spoke to the Madhya Pradesh officers for four hours after which we added two exemptions to the provisions of the bill,” Ramesh explained.
The government of Madhya Pradesh brought to the notice of the rural development ministry that providing land in exchange for land is difficult for irrigation projects. “After this, we made the first exemption that land or compensation may be provided to the displaced family but not both. And land may be provided wherever possible. However, this exemption will not apply when the affected family belongs to the Dalits and tribals community. For SC, ST it is absolutely essential that land is provided for land,” Ramesh added.
A second exemption was regarding the provision in the bill of conducting a social impact assessment together with an environmental impact assessment before the acquisition of land. The bill now waived the social impact assessment process since the environment impact assessment asked all the relevant questions about displaced and affected families.
Jairam Ramesh also claimed that with the enactment of the Land Acquisition Bill, the Naxal insurgency problem can be dealt with successfully. “Naxal insurgency has been based on issues directly related to land and forests. Tribal fury has always been centred around land acquisition and the community’s rights on forests,” he said.
Ramesh argued that the implementation of the Land Acquisition Bill will see a major difference in the tribal areas of Naxal affected Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Jharkhand. He defended that the bill which has been passed in both Houses of Parliament and sent to the President for assent on Tuesday might increase the financial cost of land acquisition “but the social cost of land acquisition will come down.”