A joint Parliament committee on the Bill agrees to bring back SIA and consent clauses among others
In a major climbdown and giving in to sustained Opposition pressure, the government on Monday agreed to drop most of its contentious amendments to the Land Acquisition Act, 2013, bringing back the crucial consent and social impact assessment clauses.
The NDA government had brought in nine substantial amendments to the 2013 legislation through an ordinance, and subsequently as part of a Bill. According to sources, six of these amendments were discussed in the meeting of the joint committee of Parliament which is looking into the Bill, on which consensus was evolved.
The Indian Express was the first to report last week that the government, in a Cabinet note, had proposed to drop most amendments, including consent and SIA, which had emerged as sticky points.
Sources say all the 11 BJP members in the committee on Monday moved amendments seeking to bring back the SIA and consent clauses.
The 2013 legislation had called for a mandatory SIA, besides consent of 80% of affected families in respect of land being acquired for private companies and consent of 70% of affected families in respect of land being acquired for public-private partnership projects. The process of obtaining consent was to be carried out along with the SIA study.
In its ordinance and subsequently the Bill, the government had amended Section 10 (A) to include to include five new categories of projects on which the requirement for consent and SIA will not apply. The five projects excluded from consent and SIA requirements included – projects for defence and defence production, rural infrastructure including rural electrification, affordable housing and housing for the poor, industrial corridors as well as infrastructure and projects, including Public Private Partnership projects wherein the ownership continues to vest with the government.
The entire clause pertaining to Section 10(A) in its bill is proposed to be dropped, as per amendments moved by the BJP members.
Another key clause discussed on Monday, which the BJP has agreed to drop, involves replacing the term “private company” with “private entity”, which meant that while earlier acquisitions for private purposes was limited to private companies registered under the Companies Act, they could be extended to any private entity as per this government’s amendments.
Another widely criticized amendment that eased the burden on defaulting civil servants will also be dropped. The ordinance and the subsequent bill had said they can be prosecuted only after taking sanction from the government in line with Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, as against the original Act which provided for provisions to penalize them in case of violations.
Sources say the clause relating to the period of time after which a piece of unutilized acquired land must be returned to its original owner will be discussed on Tuesday. While the original law said if acquired land is not utilized after five years, it should be returned, the ordinance had amended the provision (Section 101) from a “period of five years” to a “period specified for setting up of any project or for five years, whichever is later”.
Another key clause whose discussion has been left for Tuesday is the one which makes a change to the retrospective cause. The ordinance had sought to amend the retrospective clause of the 2013 legislation by excluding the period spent on litigation from the applicability of the retrospective clause. It basically amended Section 24 (2) to exclude time spent under litigation where a stay order has been passed. The original 2013 Act stipulates the retrospective clause will apply in cases where the land was acquired five years or more before the commencement of the new Act but no compensation has been paid or possession has not been taken, even if the delay includes the litigation period.
The ordinance also changed the definition of ‘compensation paid’ from an amount deposited in the court (as defined by the Supreme Court) to any amount paid into any account maintained for the purpose.
In the cabinet note moved by the Rural Development Ministry, while the former clause was proposed to be dropped, the government had said it would retain the latter.
The amendment of section 113, according to which the power with the State to remove difficulties which might arise in giving effect to the provisions of the Act can only be exercised after a period of five years from the commencement of the Act as opposed to a shorter period of two years under the 2013 Act will be taken up on Tuesday.