Land Bill to see two major changes

Written by Ashish Sinha | New Delhi | Updated: Nov 26 2012, 08:05am hrs
Thanks to UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhis intervention, the land Bill will see two important changes before it is cleared by the Cabinet and introduced in Parliament.

First, there will be a distinction in the consent requirement from landowners/affected people between cases of government acquiring land for public-private partnership (PPP) projects with public purpose and purely private projects in the case of the former, consent from only 70% of landowners/affected people will be mandatory, while that from 80% of these people will be required for private companies' acquisition of land for their use.

Second, in the case of projects where land acquisition process has been under way for five years or more, the entire process will be nullified and brought under the new norms for a fresh start.

According to official sources, the final draft of the proposed Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Bill marks a departure from what was originally outlined in the Bill as vetted by the parliamentary standing committee.

The LARR Bill had spelt out that consent of 80% of landowners as well the people dependent on the land shall be required by both government and the private sectors.

Even a group of ministers (GoM) had batted for this 80% consent formula. However, with objections being raised by the ministries of commerce, road, defence and civil aviation, among others, the GoM watered it down to two-thirds consent of only landowners before any land acquisition, without any distinction between government (PPP) and pure private sector players.

Now the land Bill is awaiting the nod from the law ministry. Once it is cleared by the law ministry, the land Bill will go for the Cabinets approval, said a senior official.

For those land deals that are under work for less than five years, the provisions on rehabilitation, resettlement and compensation as mandated in the new land Bill will have to be followed but not the consent formula.

Of course, land acquisition by the government for PPP projects will have to adhere to the broad definition of public purpose as being incorporated in the new land Bill. The list of public purpose projects include development of roads, bridges, ports, airport, urban public transport, telecommunication towers, three-star hotels, hospitals and educational institutes, among others.

Sources said the new land Bill will contain an exhaustive list of 29 infrastructure areas as involving public purpose. This means that the government can acquire land for PPP projects in these areas, provided the projects are majority-owned by the government and 70% of the landowners give their consent. Such public-purpose PPP projects will also be eligible for some concessions from state governments, which could reduce the cost of acquisition.

PPP projects driven by private companies, however, will have to fork out more for land and will require to get the consent of 80% of the landowners. The rehabilitation and resettlement policy would be tougher in their case and no government help would be forthcoming in acquiring land.