Wary of fallout, Narendra Modi govt may delay call on changes in land law

Published: November 12, 2014 8:20 AM

One reason for the unease are two crucial amendments that FinMin and some key infra ministries want in the law.

Govt may be toying with the idea of taking the ordinance route after the winter session of Parliament to effect key changes to the Land Acquisition Act. (Reuters)Govt may be toying with the idea of taking the ordinance route after the winter session of Parliament to effect key changes to the Land Acquisition Act. (Reuters)

Worried about the adverse political fallout of watering down provisions of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, the NDA government is unable to decide whether to go ahead with its plan to amend the Act in the forthcoming winter session of Parliament or try and build a larger consensus on the issue.

Sources said the government is even toying with the idea of taking the ordinance route after the winter session of Parliament to effect key but politically-sensitive changes to the Act. In fact, the government had earlier also mulled issuing an ordinance to give effect to the changes but the move did not fructify.

One reason for the unease within some quarters of the government are two crucial amendments that the Finance Ministry and some key infrastructure ministries want in the law, which may not be acceptable to the opposition Congress and some other parties.  In fact, sources in the Congress say the party has already reached out to other opposition parties to evolve consensus against the move to dilute the law.

These amendments pertain to completely doing away with or drastically watering down the social impact assessment (SIA) clause in the current Act, confining it to large projects/PPP projects.

While one view that has emerged during discussions is that social impact assessment should not be applicable for these types of projects as it causes huge delays in land acquisition, there are others who are opposed to any move to do away with this clause. Under the current Act, social impact assessment is mandatory and it has to be completed within six months.

The second sticking point is expanding the list of projects which are exempted under the Act by including infrastructure and defence projects.

According to sources, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and former Rural Development Minister Nitin Gadkari had also drafted some other changes to the Act.

Sources say the proposed amendments include doing away with the consent clause completely or keeping it to the minimal.

Currently, prior consent is required from 70 per cent of the affected families if land is being acquired for PPP projects and from 80 per cent in case of private companies.

Sources say there is a strong view that the ‘Retrospective Clause’ — that stipulates that land acquisition proceedings would lapse if compensation is not paid or physical possession not taken — should also be amended in a way so as to render it redundant and make it ineffective. Essentially, under the current Act, this clause applies to any acquisition where no awards have been made or where awards have been made five years or more before the commencement of the new Act but no compensation has been paid or possession has not been taken.

There is a suggestion that a “saving clause” should be introduced in the Act to achieve the purpose.

Some ministries also want restricting the Rehabilitation and Resettlement clause, by narrowing the scope as well as doing away with the requirement that makes the possession of land contingent upon the provision of the promised R&R. The Rural Development Ministry, in its suggestions to the Prime Minister’s Office in July, had proposed to “re-examine” the “elaborate” definition of affected families, which also includes livelihood losers working in the affected area for three years.

– Maneesh Chhibber & Ruhi Tewari

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