Friday, August 17, 2012

Reworked Bill likely to land safely

Sangita Jha/ New Delhi

Centre in reworked Bill seeks to grant state governments the flexibility to prescribe the floor level of private land purchases

The overriding objective of the Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill has been to strike a balance between needs of industrialisation and urbanisation and fair compensation to the land owners and livelihood losers. The industry had been livid at laggard pace of acquisition of land for the purposes of industrialisation. The industry has also been miffed at the prospect of being burdened with higher compensation obligation. The farmers want a share in the assets being created on their land. At the same time a number of state governments do not want any role in acquisition of land at all. Thus, the move to arrive at a consensus on Land Bill is clearly tricky. The government may not be able to make all the stakeholders happy.
The move is afoot to expedite the passage of the Land Bill in the Monsoon session of the Parliament. A month long Monsoon session of the Parliament is set to commence from August 8. Therefore, the Union rural development ministry, which is piloting the Land Bill, is faced with huge task of bringing all parties on board and win crucial support for the passage of the legislative proposal in the Parliament.
The Centre has made certain things very clear about the Land Bill. These include definite role of the government in acquisition of land. The government is of clear view that without the support of the government it would not be possible for the industrial houses to acquire land to set up their businesses. However, the ratio of the responsibility that the Centre would like state to bear in acquisition of land is being given thought to. But, sources say, it could be 80:20, that is the private party would have to first acquire a minimum 20 per cent land for the government to step in and facilitate acquisition of rest of the land.
Government's role in the draft Bill is tricky, as West Bengal does not want to play any role at all in the acquisition of land in the backdrop of a series of violent protest by farmers and land owners against government acquiring their land. Even the Parliamentary standing committee, which deliberated for months on the draft legislative proposal, had sought no role for the government in acquisition of land, while citing example of developed countries.
Further, according to the reworked draft of the Land Bill, which has been again circulated among various ministeries, seek that if the acquired land is not utilised for the stated purpose in five years it would be given back to land bank. In the Land Bill, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha, the period was 10 years.The industries are not pleased with reduction in the period, for the reason that the largescale infrastructure projects take much longer time to take off.
In anorther interesting twist to the reworked Land Bill, the move is afoot to make the compensation better. The Ministry of rural development is said to be inclined to move an amendment to the Bill in which the valuation of the land would also factor in its distance from the urban areas, while arriving at the compensation amount. This is clearly been done due to the farmers' unrest in the Greater Noida last year. In the Land Bill, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha last year, the compensation was proposed at two times the market value in the urban areas and four times in the rural areas , which, however, had been a climb down from the earlier assertions of five times compensation by National Advisory Council. Also, it's intended to course-correction for the reason, that the earlier proposal would have led to a situation to rural areas on the outskirts of urban areas fetching four times the market value while the adjacent land falling under urban area being eligible for only two times the market value despite little difference in the market value of the two adjacent land.
While perception matters and names more, the idea is also gaining ground that the name of the legislative proposal itself be changed from Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Bill, 2011 to the Right to Compensation, Resettlement, Rehabilitation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Act (RTCRRTLA). This is in fact very curious and interesting for the reason that those who are calling shots in arriving at a set of amendments feel that the primacy to "acquisition" in the original proposal gives a bad name to the government among farmers and livelihood losers. In fact the Hindi translation of "Acquisition", that is "Adhigrahan" is being considered among a set of officials giving notion to farmers that the government is authoritarian. Therefore, there appears urgency to recommend an amendment to change the name itself with strong focus bon "Right", "Compensation", "Resettlement", "Rehabilitation", and "Transparency". Some may take the luxury to laugh at the desperation on the parts of the government not to be seen as coercive.
As far as distance from the urban centres for the land being acquired is concerned, the Department of Land Resources has proposed introducing an amendment to provide for a "sliding scale" of compensation "based on the distance of project from urban area". According to the proposal, land falling within 10 km radius of the urban area will get two times the market value while land falling within 40-50 km radius will fetch four times the market value as compensation with land falling in between getting proportional increase.
Further, the Centre in its reworked Land Bill seeks to grant state governments a flexibility to prescribe the floor level of private land purchases over which a minimum level of rehabilitation and resettlement burden will have to be incurred by private purchases. Also, the reworked Land Bill also seeks compliance from the Special Economic Zone (SEZ). In fact the Parliamentary standing committee had recommended that 16 various kinds of exisiting laws need to be amended to make them consistent with the new law which is being proposed.
Therefore, the reworked Bill seeks to remove the exemption granted to the SEZ Act, 2005, which was proposed in the legislative proposal introduced in the Lok Sabha last year, along with two other laws -- Cantonment Act, 2006, Works of Defence Act, 1903 -- from complying with the LARR Bill provisions. Furthermore, the draft of the Land Bill notes that it will have overriding force over these three laws while providing exemption to the other 13 from the original list of 16. However, the other 13 will have to be amended in next two years to comply with the new Land law being proposed.
Also, since the proposed law seeks to compensate not only the land owners but even those who lose their livelihoods, the move is afoot to make sure that even those not holding the title deeds but having evidence to prove that they had been occupying the land being acquired for the past three years would be entitled for compensation. So, even squatters and encroachers are being given a thought as per the amendments being deliberated to move into the official Bill.
The industry has reasons to be livid at such suggestions as to enable even squatters to be entitled for compensation. The anger is more for the period in question being just three years. Some of the Union ministeries related to infrastructure have red-flagged this suggestion. The suggested amendment states "affected persons" as families that do not own land but may be working in the affected area for three years prior to the acquisition, which would affect their primary source of livelihood. This sub-clause would extend the benefit of compensation to squatters or people who have been living on the land, which is to be acquired. With this the proposed legislation seeks to treat squatters on par with agricultural labourers, tenants, sharecroppers or artisans.
Now, that the Union Cabinet will soon discuss the amendments being moved to the Land Bill, it's to be seen if it passes the first hurdle, while a daunting task awaits it in the Parliament.

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