Given how so many projects are stuck for want of land, it is encouraging the states are moving to change land laws after the Centre’s efforts to amend the Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Act 2013 failed. On Monday, even as hundreds of farmers and farm workers in Ongole, Andhra Pradesh, protested against the state government’s plans to acquire their land to build a super expressway between Amaravati and Anantpur, the ruling Congress government in neighbouring Karnataka sought to water down the provisions of LARR. Karnataka is following other states including Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Rajasthan in making it easier to acquire land. Gujarat, for instance, has done away with Social Impact Assessment (SIA) and the consent clauses but left the terms of the compensation the same as in the 2015 Bill; in urban areas, land-owners will get 100% of the market value, while in rural areas the compensation will be 400%. Karnataka is looking to lower the level of consent to 50%, from 70% required in LARR, and wants no SIA. The land will be used for water supply projects, road works, housing and for creating rural infrastructure including electrification.
Interestingly, the state government’s stance is at variance with that of the Congress Party. Jairam Ramesh, former minister for rural development, is on record saying that tampering with the need for consent and SIA is against the spirit of the law and would open the doors to forcible acquisitions and not compensating those giving up their livelihood. To be sure, things can go horribly wrong as the violence in Nandigram in Midnapore district of West Bengal showed. Moreover, it is pointless if disputes end up in the court—in August, 2016, the Supreme Court quashed the acquisition of 997 acres of agricultural land in Singur in Hooghly district of West Bengal meant for a car factory to be set up by the Tatas.
But, while there should never be another Nandigram, states cannot afford to let projects stall either. And, given that getting 70% consent is virtually impossible, it is just as well that states are moving ahead to change the law. If the compensation package is a fair one, the chances of farmers giving up their plots will be higher. In Rajasthan, for instance, the government had proposed that land-owners in cities be given up to two times the market value, those five km away be given up to 4.5 times while those living beyond that get up to 9 times. As long as farmers feel they are not being shortchanged, they would be more willing to give up their holdings—land-pooling, in fact, is one way to do this since farmers get to retain a portion of their land, and its value increases dramatically.