Land has always been one of the most emotional and sought-after elements for Indians from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from Tinsukhia to Bhuj, and everywhere in between.
Zameen is inseparable from our perpetual pursuit of roti, kapda aur makaan. It provides food, livelihood, shelter, and even a legacy for our next generations.
Like everything else that is much sought after and very scarce, land has become a huge point of contention and corruption in the country.
For years, the wealthy and the powerful have taken advantage of the uninformed and the unprotected landed citizens of this country; usurped janata ki zameen and made it apni jaydaad.
All this was done blatantly under the very noses of the nation’s lawmakers and law enforcers, governed by the archaic, century-old Land Acquisition Act, 1894 (Act of 1894) – which was devised by the British, and was clearly anti-farmer and anti-people.
One should pause and ask: why did this law remain in play even after Independence? One might pause and reflect that the lawmakers and law enforcers were taking advantage of the situation themselves.
Fortunately, or unfortunately (depends how you look at it), major conflicts and events around land and acquisition like the Vedanta-Niyamgiri case 2010, the Posco Steel Plant case that stretched from 2005-2012, and the Tata Nano factory case at Singrur, to name a few, caused an awakening of sorts, and resulted in the passing of The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (LARR).
However, LARR wasn’t something that was conceived overnight. It was the result of intense negotiations between stakeholders across the social and political spectrum. It took on board the concerns of farmers, environmentalists and, of course, of business and Government. The legislation represented a giant leap from injustice to equity in the system of land ownership and acquisition.
LARR was transformative: pro-farmer and pro-people.
Inter-related issues of rehabilitation, resettlement, and compensation for the loss of livelihood, in the context of land acquisition was dealt with holistically, in this one legislation.
Four concepts were the soul of this legislation:
- A multi-stakeholder social impact assessment study was required before any acquisition of land by the Government. Legitimacy of purpose, social impact, and cost-benefit analysis was intrinsic to this process. Besides the affected land-owners and residents, relevant Panchayats, Municipalities, and Municipal Corporations were to be consulted. An independent multi-disciplinary expert group duly constituted would make its recommendations to the appropriate Government. And if approved, a subsequent social impact management plan along with a public hearing was an integral part of the exercise.
- Consent of 80% of affected families was required if the proposed acquisition was for a private company for a public purpose. And consent of at least 70% of the affected families was required where the acquisition was for a public private partnership project.
- Large tracts of irrigated land that are multi-cropped and essential for food-security could only be acquired as a matter of last resort, as per a provision in Chapter-III of LARR.
- Acquisition proceedings under the Act of 1894 would lapse, where an award had been made five years or more prior to the commencement of LAAR, but physical possession of the land had not been taken or compensation not paid.
So the question is, if a nation took over a century to recognize the problems intrinsic to land acquisition, and finally correct the process to make it fair and equitable, why would someone take a u-turn with it in six months?
The question is, why would a multi-stakeholder relevant, multi-beneficial Act, be overturned by an Ordinance, and not an Act or Bill passed by Parliament?
The Ordinance of 2014 (Ordinance) to amend LARR seeks to undo the most significant salient features devised to set things right.
- It circumvents the determination of social impact and public purpose assessment – in respect of projects vital to national security or defence, rural infrastructure including electrification, housing, and affordable housing for the poor, industrial corridors and social infrastructure projects, including projects under Public Private Partnership where ownership of land continues to vest in Government… which essentially covers almost all the reasons why land is acquired in the country!
- Multi-cropped irrigated land under the Ordinance will not be acquired as a matter of last resort.
- Public Private Partnership in infrastructure, the Delhi-Mumbai and other industrial corridors, smart cities, new townships would all be exempted from social impact and public purpose assessment.
- Private hospitals and private educational institutions, when allotted land on lease by Government, be regarded as social infrastructure projects, not subject to the rigours of any social impact and public purpose assessment.
- Almost all infrastructure related projects would be exempted from the scrutiny provided under LARR.
- Acquisition for a public purpose may take place, for the use of private entities even, and not just private companies! This would include partnerships, unincorporated organisations and registered societies.
- LARR mandated consent of 70% to 80% of affected families for projects no longer necessary.
Let us pause and reflect for a moment, the implications of this u-turn…
Don’t people have a right to determine the usage of their own land anymore?
Don’t people deserve rules and a law more equitable and just, than what foreign rulers imposed on them a hundred years ago?
What made the Government take a u-turn on an Act that it was itself party to, when it was in Opposition?
Sure, major investments in infrastructure are required… but does the Government have to choose speed of implementation over equity of decisions?
Do these changes in rules void the constant accusation that government prefers big business interests, over the interests of millions of ordinary people?
Has the Government thought of the emotional impact and economic implications of the people for whom land is the only source of livelihood?
Does the Government think it has addressed the serious issues that Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes have faced over land in the past?
We need to as a nation pause and reflect: why should protection of our land and interests, remain a distant dream?
Does the Government know, that in one stroke, the very soul of the 2013 Act meant to protect its people, has been radically altered in favour of the State?
Does the Government realise, that 2014 Ordinance is no different from the Act of 1894?
Does the Government fail to see that its action is as anti-farmer and anti-people, as were the actions of erstwhile colonial rulers in 1894?
|Feature||LARR 2013||Ordinance 2014|
|Social Impact Assessment Study||Required||Not Required|
|Consent of families affected by Acquisition||Required||Not Required|
|Irrigated Multi-cropped Land Acquisition||Only as last resort||Can be acquired anytime|
|Social Impact and Public Purpose Assessment of Land for PPP in Infrastructure, Mumbai-Delhi and other Industrial Corridors||Required||Not Required|