Welcome changes in Land Act

The changes brought about by the government in the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act will help ease some rigidities in the existing law.

The UPA government had enacted the legislation in place of the 1894 Land Acquisition Act which was a coercive colonial law which went against the legitimate rights and interests of land owners and farmers by giving the state almost absolute powers of acquisition.

The new law came into force last year after much discussion and debate in the public realm and Parliament, but it was considered to have gone to the other extreme by making acquisition very difficult in many cases in terms of procedure.

Land is needed to be acquired for infrastructural and industrial projects and the criticism was that the terms and conditions prescribed in the law would inordinately delay acquisition and make it unrewarding or even impossible.

The changes make it possible to acquire land without the consent of affected families and a social impact assessment for projects related to defence, rural infrastructure, housing for the poor, industrial corridors and infrastructure.

Before the changes, consent of at least 80 per cent of the affected families in the case of acquisition of land for private companies and at least 70 per cent in the case of public private partnership (PPP) projects was necessary.

Social impact assessment involved prolonged public hearings. While these procedures are sound in principle, they turned out to be dilatory in the case of many projects.

A number of industrial and infrastructure projects are stuck in many parts of the country because of these procedural delays. The government has announced major industrial and infrastructural plans and these would not be possible without easing the constrictions on land acquisition.

It should be noted that the provisions relating to payment of compensation and relief and rehabilitation have been left unchanged.

There is criticism that the changes are against the spirit of the law and have hurt the interests of land owners. But it is better to see them as an attempt to rebalance interests and priorities.

Any deficiencies or excesses which may come to the fore at the implementation stage can still be corrected later.

The government has again chosen the undemocratic and undesirable route of an ordinance to make the changes in the legislation.

As in the case of the earlier ordinance on insurance, there was no pressing need to promulgate an ordinance. Even the President seems to have thought so. The government now has the difficult task of getting the changes endorsed by parliament.

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