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Land Acquisition Bill: Discuss the Pros and Cons.

Currently "Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act" is governing the Land acquisition in India which came into force from 1 January 2014. Until 2013, land acquisition in India was governed by Land Acquisition Act of 1894.

Land acquisition refers to the process where a government acquires land from land owners for any reason. Generally, the purpose is related to development projects directed either by Public Sector units or the private sector Prior to the passage of this Bill (it is yet to become an Act), we had the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 which was imposed in India since the time of British rule. Under this Act, the government could acquire any land as it wishes to, in the name of "public purpose".

The Government of India believed there was a heightened public concern on land acquisition issues in India. Of particular concern was that despite many amendments, over the years, to India's Land Acquisition Act of 1894, there was an absence of a cohesive national law that addressed fair compensation when private land is acquired for public use, and fair rehabilitation of land owners and those directly affected from loss of livelihoods.

Pros: The Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Act, ensured the displaced a compensation up to four times the market value of land in rural areas and two times in urban areas. The act made it mandatory to obtain prior consent of owners of the land – 70% for Private Public Participation projects and 80% for private projects, which could be raised to 100% by respective State Governments.

Under the Land Acquisition Act (1894), an "Urgency Clause" could be used to acquire land overnight without any basis. However, a proper procedure is designed under this bill for both the procedure of acquisition of land and of awarding compensation and rehabilitation and resettlement award by an authority as designated by the government under the bill.

Under the Land Acquisition Act (1894), again no provision was there for rehabilitating or resettlement of those who would be losing their ownership of land or livelihoods associated with the land acquired for any project. But under this bill, a number of provisions have been made for rehabilitation and resettlement of all those affected by land acquisition in any manner (loss of ownership and/or loss of livelihoods.

This is an improvement upon the original act, since if the majority of the landowners do not agree to the project to be established on their land, a majority of them can unite and oppose the project by not giving their consent. Hence, a major demand of the protesters has been met to a certain extent. The other big achievement is that the definition of "public purpose" is much more clear and is related to development unlike in the past, where the government could acquire land on any pretext while terming it "public purpose".

Again, there is an improvement upon the original act which did not provide any kind of compensation (monetary/non-monetary) to those affected by the land acquisition process. This bill makes a start, compensating those who will be affected by land acquisition prior to the setting up of the infrastructure or development project, monetarily and in some cases, non-monetarily. The bill also provides land-for-land compensation in certain cases. Also, the clause of lease means that the landowner at least need not lose land ownership, although others may lose their livelihoods in the process and have to be adequately compensated and rehabilitated.

A major point in this bill is that on the lines of Environmental Impact Assessment done prior to obtaining Environment Clearances from MoEF, this bill require that a Social Impact Assessment be done by an Expert Group appointed by the respective State government. The Expert Group can ask for land acquisition not to be done provided it is satisfied that the project is not in public interest, the costs outweigh the benefits or it does not serve the stated public purpose. The Expert Group has to assess the impact of the project on various things such as grazing land, transport, housing, lives of people, their occupations, their ownership, their economic conditions, physical infrastructure (drainage, roads, water availability, sanitation etc.) and many other things.

Cons: The first problem here is with the fact that this act will apply only when a private project developer acquires or purchases land more than 100 acres in rural areas or 50 acres in urban areas through a private negotiation with the landowner, or when a private project developer asks the government to acquire land on his/her/their behalf. So if a private project developer wants to escape this clause, he/she will take land in multiple parcels instead of one-time acquisition, which helps him or her escape the application of this Act.

The bill has been criticized mainly for two accounts, First, there is a huge debate on account of whether such compensation amount would be enough or not. Activists argue that prior to the coming up of a development project, the market price is quite low particularly in rural areas or semi-urban areas, and so the compensation amount (up to 4 times the market price) may be too little for a landowner/farmer who is losing his/her livelihood in a big way. Second, those who would be affected after the establishment of the project, they have not been considered at all in the bill although one could say that this was not the primary purpose of the bill, and second, one could address these through proper implementation and enforcement of the environment regulations for air and water (if not for land). There are issues with those norms though, but for once, this is a secondary problem with the bill itself.

First of all, there is no making of these provisions as mandatory, and the project developer can say that he/she is not in a position to do so with reasons, the project developer is not mandated really to provide these provisions. Second, there is no clear idea of the timeline under which these facilities are to be provided. For example, amendments were moved by various MPs that these facilities should be made ready at least six months prior to actual land acquisition so that those who will be displaced or affected can be sure if the amenities provided for them are adequate or not, and if not satisfied or if having genuine grievances, can ask for a redress of these prior to actual land acquisition. None of those were accepted and added in the bill.

Rajendraprasad Medepalli