Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Land Acquisition Act : By Jojo Mathews

Land Acquisition Act

Jojo Mathews

The post liberalization economic milieu in India has resulted in a ravenous appetite for space (land) to meet the demands for the industrialization, infrastructure building, urban expansion and resource extraction. Land acquisition for development has become the simmering issue for policy makers. The names like Singur, Nandigram, Kalinganagar, Jaitapur and Bhatta Parsaul have become epitomes of the social conflict and theaters for political action. A pertinent overwhelming question that lies at the centre of the land acquisition issue is: how should be landowners compensated when the state seizes private land for developmental needs? The recently passed Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act is a positive step to address the issues in this context. This Act although can be termed as progressive vis-à-vis the previous legislation (Land acquisition Act of 1894) but is not short of flaws.
Since the last decade our growth strategy has revolved around the concept of “inclusive growth”. It has been recognized by the policy makers that benefits of economic growth have not been equitably distributed among the diverse section of the society. Growth is inclusive when it creates economic opportunities along with ensuring equal access to them. In various developmental and mining projects there are plethoras of examples in the country wherein the local communities have been further marginalized in the name of development. According to Jairam Ramesh, minister for rural development, as many as three to four crore tribals from mineral-rich areas in Central India like Jharkhand, Odisha and Maharashtra, had been the victim of development induced displacement. Is it justified to come up with a development project which grossly violates the rights of the vulnerable local communities?  Shouldn’t there be the law of land that protects the rights and assets of the local communities from the arbitrary actions of politico-bureaucratic-mafia nexus?  The present Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act should be seen in this context.
To sustain the growth story, development projects are the need of the hour. In such scenario the land acquisition has become a stark reality. However, the land acquisition for the development projects must ensure that the fruits of development are shared equitably by diverse sections of the society. Development at the cost of local communities will create more problems than the solutions in the long run. A just, humane, participatory, consultative and pro-poor rehabilitation and resettlement policy must be ancillary to the land acquisition. Ironically, prior to this Act we did not have a proper Rehabilitation and Resettlement policy in place. The land acquisition was regulated by the archaic and anachronic Land Acquisition Act of 1894 which seriously suffered from the colonial hangover. The purpose of the law was to merely expedite the acquisition of land. The Act inter alia had following serious defects:
  1. The Act only deals with the compensation and not rehabilitation of people whose land has been acquired. The Act was silent on the issue of resettlement and rehabilitation of those displaced by acquisition of land. The compensation was to be made at the market prices.
  2. The provision for payment of compensation was there only for individuals with legal ownership
  3. The act was silent about the compensation to landless labors, forest land cultivators, forest produce collectors etc as they cannot claim legal ownership over the land.
  4. The provision for compensation for the community owned assets like forests, pastures, ponds, wells etc was not there.
The present Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act has tried to address many of these defects. The Act has enhanced the compensation rates; the minimum compensation has now been fixed at four times the market price in rural areas and twice the market price in urban areas. The act envisage mandatory Rehabilitation and Resettlement package  for all eminent domain acquisitions as well private purchases of over 100 acres in rural areas and 50 acres in urban areas. The Act unlike its predecessor has the provision for the compensation for not only to the landowners but for the livelihood losers as well, which include annuities, transportation allowance, land for land, a portion of capital gains from resale, and the land. The Act also put stringent restrictions on the acquisition of the multi-cropped land. Procedural safeguards have also been introduced, including social impact assessment, adequate notification and consent of at least 80% of the affected community. A new bureaucracy that may have five different layers or authorities will be created to manage the new process.


The present law although progressive, but is not short of flaws. The law has fixed the compensation at four times the market price in rural areas and twice the market price in urban areas. Nonetheless, the land markets in the country are underdeveloped and largely work on opaque procedures and norms. As per the law, the compensation shall be fixed from the average of the sale price for fifty percent of the sale deeds in the preceding 3 years. While the estimate seem to be appreciable it can be misleading since the price quoted in the sale deeds are most often low to evade the stamp duty during the transactions. 
The law mandates the Rehabilitation and Resettlement package for all eminent domain acquisitions as well private purchases of over 100 acres in rural areas and 50 acres in urban areas. It’s a progressive step. But in the densely populated states like Kerala, West Bengal etc even acquisition of 10 acre of land can effect large number of families.
For the tribal communities, the forests and community owned assets are the integral part of lives.   In the present law the loss is calculated merely in the financial terms and not ecological or cultural terms. The issue is relevant in the context of large scale conversion of forest areas for mining projects and alienation of the tribal community from their livelihood sources in several regions.
In nut shell it can be concluded that over all this is a good Law which can help India to come out of the policy paralysis. Many major projects were stuck due to the inability to acquire land. Even though the cost of land for industries will increase, due shares for the landowners are ensured in the Act which is very crucial in the Indian Context. Land is the only asset for many in India. According to many experts, till now Indian Industry enjoyed a lot of cheap land at the expense of poor farmers and tribals. Now the Industry will have to pay for the land. For the first time, the rights of the ‘sons of the soil’ are duly protected.

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