Law of the land

The violence in UP’s Gautam Buddha Nagar and Agra in the last few days has again brought to the fore the continuing inability of governments to evolve sound and satisfactory legal and procedural steps to address the problems related to land acquisition.

Four people have died in clashes between farmers and the police over the demand for fair price for land to be acquired for the Yamuna Expressway project. The protests are spreading and the politics over land is deepening. UP and other parts of the country have seen major agitations over the issue in the past. UP and Haryana have better land acquisition rules and processes than other states. But even these have been found to be inadequate.

The blame does not rest only on state governments. The Centre and all political parties should share responsibility for their inability to agree on a legislation that reconciles the need for land for economic growth and urbanisation with demands and grievances of those who are divested of it.

The existing 1894 Act is outdated. Its amendment in 1984 also could not ensure fair prices and just acquisition processes to poor land-owners. The provisions are ambiguous and biased in favour of the government, public purpose is ill defined, the compensation offered is low and the procedures are clumsy. Much debate has taken place over this, and many suggestions have been made to make the law sensitive and contemporary.

The Centre actually introduced a new bill in the Lok Sabha in 2009. That was not very satisfactory but even that was allowed to lapse. As the demand for land grows, its prices are going up everywhere. Very often land is acquired in the name of development to supply cheap real estate to private companies.

Owners of land are short-changed in the process. Livelihood and rehabilitation issues are ignored. Even in cases of need for land for genuine development there cannot be different standards for compensation. The proposal to give land losers a stake in the projects that come up on their land is not generally followed.

The problem of poor land records and ambiguous transactions add to the difficulties. Other laws relating to rehabilitation and resettlement also need to be changed in line with an effective and humane acquisition law. A change of laws is needed for development but it should at the same time protect the just rights of land owners.

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