Changed industrial corridor norms a very bad idea
Rural development minister Birender Singh did well to point out that the UPA’s land acquisition Act did little to help farmers since a very large majority need to, and want to, move out of farming if they are to prosper. With land holdings terribly fragmented, the minister said, farmers were not able to even eke out a living—as FE has pointed out before, nearly two-thirds of the income of marginal farmers comes from non-farm activities. So, if farmers are to prosper, they need to move to industries and the service sector and to cities. If agriculture’s share in GDP is reduced to 16%, it cannot possibly be profitable if more than 20-25% of Indians are dependent upon it—that number, however, is currently around 60%. If land acquisition becomes difficult for agriculture infrastructure and for urbanisation, the biggest losers will be farmers themselves. But, as has been clear from day one, the discussion has not been around what is good and bad for farmers, it has been along party lines. Which is why, while political parties like the Samajwadi Party supported changes in the UPA’s land Act during the consultation process, they opposed it in Parliament. Indeed, even Congress chief ministers like Prithviraj Chavan and ministers like Anand Sharma opposed the UPA’s Act on grounds it would make land acquisition impossible.
Given the ambiguous stand taken by NDA allies initially—without the allies, the Bill cannot pass in even a joint sitting of both Houses—it is not surprising the government has decided to make certain amendments to the ordinance even if this hurts infrastructure creation in even rural areas. So, for instance, acquiring land for private hospitals and private schools will not get an exemption from the land acquisition law—in other words, consent and social impact assessments will have to be done for these. Social infrastructure has also been excluded from the exemption since this could be used to bring in private sector projects. Similarly, acquisition of multi-cropped irrigated land will have to be kept to a minimum, and after attempts to get arid land and wasteland have been made first. Similarly, where rehabilitation and resettlement is to be done, at least one member of each affected family will have to be employed. The amendment on industrial corridors is the most puzzling. The NDA ordinance allowed ‘industrial corridors’ to be exempted from the provisions of social impact assessment and the consent clause. This would have allowed the DMICDC, for instance, to develop new cities over hundreds of square kilometres. The amendment made now restricts the land acquisition to ‘up to one kilometre on both sides of designated railway line or roads for such industrial corridor’. A bare reading of the amendment suggests land acquisition for cities would become tortuous since it would appear the ‘road’ in question would be a main/major road—if, however, the ‘road’ is any arterial road, acquiring land for building cities would not be hampered. While this may be a case of clever drafting, it does appear the process of land acquisition for building new cities has been made more tortuous—it is a fair question to ask if this convoluted definition was required to get the BJP’s allies on board.