Thorny issues in land bill remain

Govt defends scrapping social impact assessment, consent clause

Thorny issues in land bill remain

The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, passed by the Lok Sabha in March, had reinstated certain provisions that were part of the original law passed by the UPA government in 2013.

The UPA bill excluded the acquisition of land for private hospitals and private educational institutions. The Ordinance issued by the Modi government in December last permitted acquisition for such projects. However, this provision was dropped by the government in March.

Similarly, the government added an element of certainty on provision of employment to one member of the affected family of farm labourer. The Bill states that a member of the family of farm labour “must be given” employment. The earlier bill mentioned “affected families” and did not specify “farm labourer.”

The Bill passed by the Lok Sabha also diluted the provision for action against a government employee who commits an offence in the process of land acquisition. The UPA Bill held the head of the department “deemed to be guilty” of the offence committed by an employee of the department till such time he proved that he had “exercised due diligence” to prevent the commission of offence.

The NDA Bill deleted this provision and added that a government employee can be prosecuted as provided for in Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. The section deals with prosecution of judges and public servants.

The Modi government’s decision to scrap the social impact assessment and the mandatory consent of farmers before acquiring their land remains the key sticking point. The Bill has also done away with the requirement to return the land to the farmer if it is not used for the purpose it was acquired for within five years. The government argues that the amendment factors in delays caused by litigation over the project.

The 2013 law had made consent of 80 per cent land owners mandatory before acquisition of land for private projects and 70 per cent for public-private-partnership projects. The Bill passed by the Lok Sabha waived off this provision if land was acquired for defence, rural infrastructure, affordable housing, industrial corridors and infrastructure projects including PPP projects where central government owns the land.

This exemption also applies for irrigated, multi-crop land without any limit provided that the government issues a notification to this effect. However, the Bill passed by the Lok Sabha adds that the government must ensure that the extent of land acquired is in keeping with the minimum land required.

While the UPA law was applicable for the acquisition of land for private companies, the Ordinance changes this to acquisition for ‘private entities’. The government had argued that this was necessary to bring the law in line with the Companies Act 2013 which defines the word ‘Company’. The mention of ‘private company’ had excluded others such as public company, proprietorship, partnership, non-profit organisations from the provisions of fair compensation.

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