Populist intent

The colonial era 1894 land acquisition act, which has provided the legal framework for purchase of land for public and private purposes, was so patently unfair and unjust that it needed not just changes but a total overhaul. It is surprising that it continued to be in force for over six decades after independence.

The purpose of that legislation was only to effect and expedite takeover of land without any regard for fair compensation and rehabilitation. Millions have been deprived of their ownership rights and marginalised under it and it has no place in a just and humane society. But the bill which the Lok Sabha has already passed has gone to the other extreme and would make land acquisitions too costly and perhaps impossible to implement in many cases.

The specification that the compensation for land should not be less than twice the market price in urban areas and four times the market price in villages will make projects on such land economically unviable in most cases. There is the need for 80 per cent of owners’ consent in the case of takeover for private projects and agreement of 70 per cent owners for other projects. There is also the provision for a social impact assessment survey before the acquisition process starts. These provisions are likely to delay the acquisition process as they give a lot of scope for official discretion, red tape and legal challenges. The bill has many good intentions but suffers from a lack of balance in perspective in terms of its consequences at the time of implementation.

Non-availability or scarcity of land has adversely affected investment in recent past. Industry bodies have severely criticised the bill saying “it is anti-growth and anti-manufacturing” and expressed the apprehension that it would make the land acquisition more cumbersome. They also feel that it will increase the costs of setting up new businesses. There is a populist intent in the bill as rural votes are very important in the electoral schemes of the government and political parties. That is why most political parties supported the bill. While the government had to take care of the interests of farmers, tenants, share croppers and others whose only asset or means of livelihood is land, it should also have ensured that the bill did not go against the interests of industry. 

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