The New LARR Bill will not End the British Legacy of Forced Land Acquisition

People’s Consent for Every Development Project is a MUST, Niyamgiri Shows the Way Forward

All Agricultural Land Should be Protected from Acquisition and Diversion


New Delhi, August 13 : The Consensus on the Bill amending Land Acquisition Act 1894 have eluded for long and that’s the one reason that it has been under the discussion for 7th year now. It was introduced in the 13th Lok Sabha in 2007 as two separate Bills and in 14th Lok Sabha as a comprehensive Bill, as demanded by us, which is a welcome step. However, after its introduction in 2010, Bill has got changed for worse and continues to advocate acquisition for PPP projects, private projects, flexible definition of ‘public purpose’, and acquisition of agricultural land undermining not only the livelihood of the communities dependent on the Bill but also the food security of the nation. The bill though has some positive points to its credit like seeking a majority consent, conducting Social Impact Assessment, expanded definition of project affected persons, return of land in some cases to land owners but overall states role in acquisition has increased and law is titled towards facilitating land acquisition.

The amendments tabled in Lok Sabha, which were later withdrawn last year, neglected major recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Rural Development. In the long drawn discussion on various issues, it is unfortunate that towards the end point of discussion was just limited between BJP and Congress on the issue of lease of land and increased monetary benefit to farmers whose land were wrongfully purchased by middlemen. Communist Party of India (Marxist) has moved over a hundred amendments to the Bill, which has not been taken up by the government.

It is against the parliamentary democracy that a unanimous report, across the party line, of the Standing Committee is not given due importance before finalizing the draft and being introduced in the Parliament. We would also like to point out that whole process since PSC gave its report has been extremely opaque and other stake holders have not been shared any detail with, even after repeated requests. Mr. Jairam Ramesh, Minister of Rural Development have eagerly met various groups on many occasions but once it went to the Cabinet, many of us have remained in dark, and only got news from media. The pre-legislative process must involve the stake holders at all levels, rather than media being the only source of information.

There is no doubt that the union government was compelled to bring in certain provisions to control the unjustifiable forcible acquisition of land and associated Natural Resources, such as minerals, for the private companies and their projects. The consent of 80% of affected land losers in the case of private projects and of 70% for PPP projects has now become a precondition, which no doubt is a major change. However, why not consent for the Government projects, as recommended by Standing Comiittee? Infact, excluding the Government projects & all Infrastructure projects, has left the Bill a lame one, and not applicable to land acquisition in many conflict ridden projects.

It is also unacceptable that out of 16 central acts and 100 plus state acts under which there are provisions for forcible land acquisition, only 3 acts are brought under the purview of the new Bill i.e. SEZ Act, Defence Act and Cantonment Act, against the standing committees recommendations. This also means that most of the private or public projects where land is being acquired under Mines and Minerals Act, or State wise Industrial Development Acts, or National Highway Act, Coal Bearing Area Act, etc will remain outside the ambit of this Bill. There is only a recommendation made that all necessary laws may be amended and brought under this act within a year. It may be done partially as in the case of PESA act. So, the remote possibility of its retrospective application will not have much impact and only in cases where only LAA is being used will get some relief.

All this indicates that the British legacy is mostly to continue, with some exception. The UPA has lost the opportunity to make the development planning truly democratic and bring in the role of Gram Sabhas and the Urban Basti Sabhas in planning all the projects, including government and private projects.

The Bill also rejects the Standing Committees recommendation to leave all agricultural land under cultivation out of the purview of forcible land acquisition. Instead it no doubt puts in certain preconditions such as bringing in alternative land under cultivation for acquiring multi crop land as the last resort, but that does not prevent acquisition of single crop land. Thus 75% of India’s farmers engaged in rain fed agriculture will continue to have sword of land grab and eviction hanging on their heads. The Bill also gives State Governments undue freedom to decide what percentage of irrigated land in a district can be acquired, when it is a issue of national importance. The food security of the country will be jeopardised, we wonder how will UPA ensure the amount of food required for Food Security Bill if they continue to brazenly acquire the land from farmers, 180 lakh hectares of land diverted in two decades. Ministry of Rural Development has recently come out with a land reform policy, yet we wonder how will they ensure land for the landless. The current bill is completely antithetical to the whole idea of protecting land rights of those who already have land, and it will make more people landless.

There is no doubt that while Resettlement & Rehabilitation is linked with Land acquisition and for the first time, been brought into a single act. However, the R & R provisions are more cash based and seem not to be providing for an alternative Livelihood as a mandatory measure. There is a strong doubt therefore that the increased offer of high cash compensation including 100% solatium, will act as a luring force to make the farmers loose land. In the present situation of inequity between the prices for the agricultural produce vis-à-vis industrial products and services this is surely to happen. Provision of one hectare of land for SC/ST or 1 acre of land in the command area for irrigation project affected SC/ST Families is highly inadequate and will neither ensure alternative livelihood nor better standard of living after rehabilitation. It is also unnecessary that the Bill leaves Resettlement and Rehabilitation responsibility for the Private project proponents, to be decided by the State Government.

The monitoring of the R&R measures are certainly bureaucratically loaded. The role of Gram Sabhas necessary for democratizing the planning to monitoring process is certainly lacking.

The much awaited Bill that was pooh poohed by the UPA as a solution to the enormous injustice and related resistance to land acquisition, is therefore to disappoint many. No doubt there is some change that has come as a result of strong peoples’ movements across the country, inspite of unprecedented pressure tactics from the Corporates. However it is unlikely that the new Act will resolve the serious conflicts between the State and Farmers to Fishworkers, as also Labourers, unless the above flaws are removed and many basic amendments are made. May we hope that the Country would witness not the unethical alliance politics of the kind seen during the FDI debate, but a serious discussion that would pave a way for resolution of conflict over land and all natural resources.

Cabinet Committee on Investment is another conspiracy to facilitate investment with minimum or no conditions, when there is respective Ministry and Authority with expertise, why should there be further ‘pressure’ from other Ministries with different goals and motives, such as Finance, as interface in the specialised task of other ministries such as Environmental or Tribal Affairs, one may ask. Corporatisation of State is the reason for such moves killing the protective channels.

Medha Patkar, Narmada Bachao Andolan – NAPM; Dr. Sunilam, Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, Madhya Pradesh; Dr. Rupesh Verma, Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, Uttar Pradesh; Prafulla Samantara – Lok Shakti Abhiyan, NAPM, Odisha; Gautam Bandopadhyay – Nadi Ghati Morcha, NAPM, Chhattisgarh; Ulka Mahajan, Suniti SR, Prasad Bagwe – SEZ Virodhi Manch and NAPM, Maharashtra; Gabriel Dietrich, Geetha Ramakrishnan – Unorganised Sector Workers Federation, NAPM, TN;Bhupender Singh Rawat, Rajendra Ravi, Anita Kapoor – Jan Sangharsh Vahini and NAPM, Delhi; Akhil Gogoi – Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, NAPM, Assam; Arundhati Dhuru, Sandeep Pandey – NAPM, UP; Sister Celia – Domestic Workers Union, NAPM, Karnataka; Sumit Wanjale, Madhuri Shivkar, Simpreet Singh – Ghar Bachao, Ghar Banao Andolan, NAPM, Mumbai;Dr.Rupesh Verma – Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, NAPM, UP; Manish Gupta – Jan Kalyan Upbhokta Samiti, NAPM, UP; Vimal Bhai – Matu Jan sangathan, NAPM, Uttarakhand; Vilas Bhongade – Gosikhurd Prakalpgrast Sangharsh Samiti, NAPM, Maharashtra;Ramashray Singh – Ghatwar Adivasi Mahasabha, Jharkhand; Anand Mazhgaonkar, Paryavaran Suraksh Samiti, NAPM Gujarat

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