The Narendra Modi government on Tuesday secured the Lok Sabha’s approval for a Bill to replace the land acquisition ordinance issued on the last day of calendar 2014 by tweaking it a bit but without compromising on key provisions aimed at fast-tracking infrastructure creation and urbanisation.
Despite pressure from the Opposition, the government refused to accede to an industry-unfriendly demand for reintroducing the consent and social impact assessment (SIA) clauses for five broad categories of projects, in the case of which the ordinance proposed a waiver.
Ambiguity, however, prevailed on whether plans for building smart cities and industrial corridors could be hit by a new clause that said land can be acquired under the law only “up to 1 km on both sides of the designated railway line or road of the industrial corridor”.
Stoutly defending the Bill that seeks to make significant changes to a just-over-a-year-old law made by the UPA government, rural development minister Birender Singh said the proposed legislation would enable the crores of sustenance-level farmers to secure remunerative manufacturing and service-sector jobs. While the farm sector contributed just 16% of the gross domestic product (GDP), close to 60% of Indians rely on farming, he noted, adding that the skewed pattern underlay the poverty and distress in rural India.
A clutch of amendments was made in the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill, 2015, to pacify the Opposition benches, but the Congress, Trinamool Congress, Telangana Rashtra Samithi and Biju Janata Dal refused to budge. The AIADMK supported the Bill while the Shiv Sena abstained.
Even as the real test of getting the Bill approved by the Rajya Sabha, where the ruling coalition is in a minority, lay ahead, the government has the infrequently used option of convening a joint session to get the Bill ratified. The ordinance will lapse on April 5 if the Bill is not passed by Parliament by then.
Despite not getting support from even its ally Shiv Sena, the government, thanks to BJP’s own strength in the lower House, managed to retain the crucial exemptions from the onerous SIA and consent requirements for a wide spectrum of infrastructure projects and urbanisation ventures. These included defence, rural infrastructure, affordable housing, industrial corridors and infrastructure projects, including those under the public-private partnership mode where the government owns the land.
This means that land acquisition for PPP projects in sectors like highways, ports, etc, won’t be impeded by the requirement of obtaining consent of 70% of the landowners. Neither will there be the need for a social impact assessment of the affected families. Such consent and SIA were mandatory under UPA’s Act, which was amended by the ordinance.
The government also refused to put restrictions on acquisition of irrigated multi-crop land.
The key concession it made, however, was exclusion of private hospitals and private educational institutions from the purview of the relevant law. This means that these private sector ventures can’t be defined to have a public purpose and land cannot be acquired for them compulsorily with the government’s support.
The government also clarified that land acquisition under the law for industrial corridors will be only for those set up by the government and its undertakings. Given that purely private-sector industrial projects are a rarity, this change doesn’t signify much. It also removed “social infrastructure” from the projects exempted from SIA and consent requirements but again, since rural infrastructure remains in the exempted category, the impact would be minimal.
Moreover, rehabilitation and resettlement clause in the UPA’s LAAR Act, 2013, was strengthened to ensure compulsory employment to at least one member of an “affected family of a farm labourer”.
Experts said the 1-km restriction of land acquisition for industrial projects might not affect large projects like the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), which are key to setting up new industrial cities as ‘smart cities’ and converging next-generation technologies across infrastructure sectors. How the Bill is worded will be crucial, though. The designated road or railway need not necessarily be the trunk road or line, they said.
* Govt does not relent on consent clause or SIA for designated purposes
* Private hospitals/varsities not to get exemptions now
* Job for 1 member of each displaced family now
* Tough to get land for cities as only 1 km of land on either side of rail/road allowed. Unless definition of ‘road’ is not trunk road but even a minor road