After supporting Land Act, BJP readies to tone down provisos

fe Bureau Posted online: Saturday, Jun 28, 2014 at 0000 hrs
New Delhi : Barely six months after a new central land acquisition law came into force replacing the one enacted 120 years ago, the government has embarked on its overhaul. The move, confirmed by rural development and roads minister Nitin Gadkari after a meeting with state revenue ministers on Friday, comes amid concerns expressed by not only industry but also many states and senior government functionaries in charge of infrastructure projects over the impracticality of the new law.

While the elaborate requirements of local peoples’ consent stipulated in the law have, for the short period of its existence, proven to be onerous, industry bodies like CII have noted that the new Act has jacked up land acquisition cost by three times, rendering projects unviable and thwarting investments.

After Friday’s meeting where many BJP-ruled states said the law has adversely affected even small projects, Gadkari said states’ concerns have been noted and a report on the same would be prepared in 10 days after further consultations with states and presented to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“We will then act on his (the PM’s) directions... The matter will be discussed in the Cabinet and Parliament if needed,” he said, signalling changes to the new law. Gadkari had earlier said that many road projects were stuck due to the difficulty in acquiring land, apart from delays in environmental clearances.

While green clearances have been fast-tracked after the new government took over, the land acquisition law, which sets the lower threshold for states when it comes to announcing compensation for the landowners, has been an impediment in several cases.

A senior government functionary told FE on condition of anonymity that “government-led and infrastructure projects including roads and ports, etc, need to be kept out of the ambit of the land acquisition Act”. He added that the ‘eminent domain’ of the state needed to be left undisturbed to ensure that land can be compulsorily acquired by the state for developmental objectives.

As per the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, that came into force on January 1, 2014, replacing the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, consent of at least 70% of the project-affected people is mandatory for acquiring land for projects under the public-private partnership model. As for acquiring land for private companies involving projects aimed at public purpose (which includes industry also), consent of 80% of the people affected is required.

The Act also stipulates that farmers losing land in rural areas will get compensation four times the market value of the land and twice the market value in urban areas.

Industry bodies have pointed out that use of land for industry is much more an income-generating activity than for farming and there are large segments of Indian farmland that can be converted into industrial land with a view to setting up job-generating industries.

However, Gadkari, who hinted at a re-look on the law, made it clear that the interests of farmers would not be compromised. “As far as the interest of farmers is concerned, especially compensation, rehabilitation and resettlement, our party and government have already decided we will not compromise (on) any condition related with beneficiaries, particularly farmers,” he said.

BJP-ruled states Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Goa had called the new law “anti-progressive”. A positive feature of the new law is that it allows the government to play a facilitator role in acquisition of land for private-sector projects.

A CII spokesperson said: “We have always welcomed the new land acquisition Act as it is the first ever attempt to combine land acquisition process with rehabilitation and resettlement of affected people. While CII has been of the opinion that the quality of lives of affected people should be better post land acquisition, at the same time due consideration should also be given to industry affordability and reducing the overall process of land acquisition, which are on the higher side as per the provisions stipulated in the Act.”

Land locked

Report on the concerns of the states to be prepared in

10 days and presented to the Prime Minister

No compromise on compensation, rehabilitation and resettlement

Changes to the Act to be discussed in the Cabinet and Parliament if needed

BJP-ruled states say new Land Act has pushed up acquisition costs and impacted small projects