Thursday, September 22, 2011

Reworked land Bill on the anvil

The land acquisition bill, which is likely to be passed in the winter session of the Parliament, has certain landmark proposals and is biased towards farmers.

By Sangita Jha/New Delhi

Within one month of taking over the charge of Ministry of Rural Development, Jairam Ramesh has prepared an exhaustive Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR), Bill 2011, which seeks to replace the prevalent law of 1894.
It appears that Mr Ramesh has burnt the proverbial midnight oil a lot given the kind of consultations that he held in drafting the LARR Bill, 2011. Not only he rushed to the Writers' Building in Kolkata to brief West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on the draft Bill put in the public domain earlier, Mr Ramesh came back with a number of inputs from the leader who had earlier led agitation against land acquisition in her state.
Knowing well the draft Land Bill needs to get support of the civil society, Mr Ramesh also held wide consultations with environmental activist Medha Patkar. The minister also spoke to a number of leaders of political parties and has expressed confidence that the LARR Bill, 2011 will sail through in the Parliament with ease.
After two weeks of putting a draft LARR Bill, 2011 in the public domain, the MoRD came out with another revised draft of the legislative proposal, which has been circulated to the inter-ministerial panel for seeking its comment. Mr Ramesh has said that the MoRD would move the Cabinet for getting approval of the LARR, Bill, 2011 and before the Monsoon session comes to an end it would be introduced in the Parliament.
"The Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his speech from the Red Fort on August 15 said that the LARR Bill, 2011 will be in the Parliament soon. We are all working overnight to ensure that the much-awaited Bill comes to the Parliament. However, it would be able to pass the Bill only in the winter session of the Parliament," said Mr Ramesh.
The substance of the LARR Bill, 2011 is already being commented upon by broad sections of people. Mr Ramesh has put in in the fineprint of the revised draft LARR Bill, 2011 that it will be implemented with retrospective effect. This addresses demands of large numbers of farmers who had been agitating against land acquisition in various states.
It has been made it very clear that the LARR Bill, 2011 will be applicable to all cases of land acquisition before the date of commencement of the Act if the award under the 1894 Act has not been made. It will also be applicable if the possession of the land has not been taken regardless of whether the award has been made or not. This makes it very clear that date is not being specified from which the new law will be effective, as it's on the basis of stage of the process of land being acquired.
Mr Ramesh is of the opinion that the retrospective clause will cover major chunk of the cases of land acquisition against which the farmers are protesting.
The most salient feature of the LARR Bill, 2011 is a very specific definition of "public purpose" in the case of land acquisition. This is expected to ensure that the state governments do not acquire land for some vague purposes by taking advantage of a very broad definition of "public purpose" earlier and later change the land use in collusion with the real-estate developers.
The draft LARR bill, 2011 specifically mentions that projects of "strategic purposes" and that of railways, highways, ports and power and irrigation would not involve getting consent of 80 per cent of the affected land owners. In all other cases of land acquisition, it will be mandatory to get consent of 80 per cent of the affected people.
Therefore, projects coming under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) mode will no longer be so easy to execute as land acquisition for the purpose will not only require consent of 80 per cent of the affected people but also a prior social impact assessment (SIA) to be done at the level of the Gram Sabha. Mr Ramesh has said that the local administration or the state government will not be in a position to forcibly take away the land as SIA will involve civil society and Gram Sabha's participation.
The LARR, 2011 is also unique in the sense that it combines acquisition and rehabilitation and resettlement aspects by clubbing them into one law. Therefore, the clause of rehabilitation and Resettlement (R&R) will become operational in cases of land being acquired of the size of 100 acres or more.
Even private purchase of land in access of 100 acres in the rural and 50 acres in the urban areas will make it mandatory for invoking the R&R clause.
Further, it's for the first time that scheduled castes too have been included at par with scheduled tribes. In the Act of 1894 only STs were mentioned to be given compensation with alternative land. But LARR, 2011 makes it mandatory for both SCs and STs. Also, the alternative land to be given to SCs and STs will be not just at par with what they lose in acquisition exercise but five times.
Also when an acquirer fails to provide employment to affected people it will be incumbent on them to pay Rs 5 lakh in place of the earlier provision of Rs 2 lakh only.
However, Mr Ramesh is having a second opinion on allowing acquisition of multi-cropped irrigated land. The draft LARR Bill, 2011, which had been put in the public domain, had called for a blanket ban on acquisition of multi-cropped irrigated land. However, in the revised draft of the LARR, Bill, and 2011, which has been sent to the inter-ministerial panel for the comment the issue, has been left open.
Mr Ramesh said that the Planning Commission has requested the MoRD to review the decision on the issue of a blankety ban on acquisition of multi-cropped irrigated land, as it will affect industrialist ion. He said that even states like Punjab, Haryana, West Bengal have voiced reservation against such a blanket ban. He said that the issue needs a review as even entire Northeastern states too along with western UP too could be affected.
However, the rural development ministry had made it clear that there would be no ban on private purchase of multi-cropped irrigated land. The issue of agricultural land is being taken seriously by the ministry in a bid not to jeopardize the food security of the country by further cutting the size of the rice and wheat bowls of the country.
The LARR Bill, 2011 has also made it clear that the affected farmers will get compensation at six times the market rate of their land at the time of acquisition. Further, on the contentious issue of the role of the government in land acquisition, the ministry has kept it flexible for the state governments to decide what kind of role they want to play. It also calls for giving the affected farmers 25 per cent share in residential properties being built on their land, apart from providing them alternative housing when their habitats are acquired. The LARR also calls for building cattle sheds in a bid to ensure that acquisition of land does not destroy the rural character of the people.

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