Ministry gives short shrift to NAC recommendations

Ministry gives short shrift to NAC recommendations

The tussle on a viable land acquisition policy continues

Rural Development Minister Vilas Rao Deshmukh said that he found the NAC’s recommendations good and agreeable in principle, but his ministry had no time left to incorporate the major changes the panel sought in the twin Bills. Sources, however, said that several top officials in the Ministry, which would soon forward the draft legislation to the Ministry of Law and Justice for vetting, had serious reservations about the NAC’s recommendations on the proposed Bills.

The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industries also opposed the NAC’s suggestions on the two Bills, particularly the panel’s recommendation that only the Central and state governments should acquire land for private projects of public purpose with prior consent of 70 per cent of the project-affected people.

The government is set to introduce the Bills in Parliament during the monsoon session in July.

Deshmukh indicated that the Government’s draft of the new Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill would retain the provisions to allow private industry to purchase 70 per cent of the land needed for a plant directly from the land-owners and get the rest to be acquired by the government.

The NAC pointed out that if the private industry was allowed to get land directly from the landowners, it might leave scope for the land mafia to exploit poor people, particularly in tribal areas, and would also deprive them of rehabilitation and resettlement rights to be guaranteed by the law for acquisitions by government. The Gandhi-led panel argued that only the Government should acquire the entire plot of land required for any “public purposes”.

Deshmukh said that the proposal to allow only the government to acquire 100 per cent plot of land for private projects too had its “own share of opposition”. He was apparently referring to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who wants the government to leave it to the industry to acquire either the entire plot of land required for a project or at least most of it at market rate.

Banerjee’s All India Trinamool Congress, a constituent of the ruling UPA, had in 2009 prevented the Congress-led government from introducing the twin Bills in Parliament.
The NAC, the UPA government’s interface with civil society, wants the government to repeal the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 instead of amending it. It suggested that the government should merge the proposed Land Acquisition Bill and the Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill into a consolidated Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill.

Separate bills

But the Ministry of Rural Development seems set to move ahead with two separate Bills, which might be presented before the Union Cabinet for approval towards the end of this month or early next month.

The advisory panel recommended that compensation for those who would lose land should be six times the registered sale deed value, including solatium. It also suggested that the agricultural workers, fisher-folks, artisans and forest gathers, who might not own the land, but were dependent on it for livelihood, should also be given compensation at the rate of 10 days of minimum wages per month for 33 years.

The Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2007 and Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2009 were passed by the Lok Sabha on February 25, 2009. The twin Bills however could not be passed in the Rajya Sabha and eventually lapsed with the dissolution of the 14th Lok Sabha.

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