Until 2013 all the land acquisitions used to take place under the ambit of a colonial era bill – the land bill act of 1894. The 2013 LARR Act(Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act ) passed by the UPA government made some sweeping changes over the obsolete 1894 land bill. But the 2013 LARR despite being pro-farmer on paper was ultimately seen as detrimental to the development of the farmers due to the lack of proper implementation of its stated procedures. Many a times it was alleged that goons and political muscle were used to force the farmers to give consent to land acquisitions. Moreover the LARR 2013 was seen as anti-industry for it presented many criteria for successful land acquisition which were not only rigorous but sometimes, outright impossible. To remedy the shortcomings in the LARR 2013 act and to boost the manufacturing industry, the NDA government came out with a revamped version of the act(Land Acquisition Bill 2015) and introduced it in the Lok Sabha. This version, which we know as Land Acquisition Bill(which will be officially called LARR Act 2015 if passed), soon got stranded in the eye of a political storm. The opposition’s strong objection and unrelenting protests against the proposed changes mentioned in the LARR Act (Amendment) 2015, haveing a counterintuitive manner made the government take an equally obstinate stance and the political deadlock in the Rajya Sabha seems highly unlikely to break.
The key points of the LARR Act 2015
So what are these proposed changes that have created so much objection from various quarters? Here are the main points in the original LARR act 2015 which were introduced in the Lok Sabha as an ordinance.
1. The bill creates 5 types of projects, namely, (i) defence (ii) rural infrastructure, (iii) affordable housing,(iv) industrial corridors, and (v) infrastructure and social infrastructure including Public Private Partnership projects where the government owns the land.
2. The projects under these 5 groups are exempted from the precondition of taking 80% consent from landowners for private projects and 70% consent for PPP projects which were required under the provisions of the LARR act 2013.
3. The projects falling under these 5 categories are further exempted from conducting SIA (Social Impact Assessment) , which is done to assess who would likely be affected by the projects and impact on people’s livelihood, income etc.
4. The restrictions on irrigated multi-crop agricultural lands were removed for the above mentioned 5 categories of projects.
5. The provisions for compensation, rehabilitation and resettlement under other 13 related Act, like National Highways Act, 1956 and the Railways Act, would be brought in consonance with that of LARR Act.
6. It removes a provision mentioned in the LARR Act 2013 under which if an offence is committed by a government department then the head of the department would be prosecuted. It would require prior sanction from the government to prosecute a government employee under the section 197 under the code of criminal procedure, 1973
7. Acquisition of land for private hospitals and educational institutions is included under the purview of the LARR Act 2015 unlike the 2013 Act where it was excluded.
The second Amendment
After the receiving flak from different quarters the government decided to make some necessary changes to the LARR Act 2015 to win over some members of opposition and farmer lobby groups. The important changes are as follows:
1. It excluded social infrastructure from the 5 exempted categories that doesn’t require the 80% consent of the landowners for private projects and 70% consent for PPP projects.
2. Now before giving the SIA exemption for projects the government has to check that the amount of land being acquired confirms to the minimum land required. So projects under the exempted categories are not required to conduct SIA if the government issues the notification. But before the notification the government has to make the assessment regarding the minimum land required. These notifications are issued on project to project basis.
3. Before issuing the exemption notification for irrigated multi-crop lands the government has to check that the acquired land confirms to the minimum required land. This means that the projects can still be exempted from the limits imposed on acquiring irrigated multi-crop lands through a notification but before giving such notification the government has to make sure that the measure of land that is being sought complies with the minimum land required standards for the project.
4. The need for prior sanction from the government that was required for prosecuting a government employee for irregularities and offence has been omitted and now it simply mentions that a government employee can be prosecuted under the section 197 under the code of criminal procedure.
5. Acquisition of land for private hospitals and educational institutions has been excluded from the Act.
6. Adds a new provision under which the government has to make a survey of the wastelands and keep detailed records of the wastelands.
The Remaining Bone Of Contention
These changes were instrumental in winning support for the government from different parties and made it possible for the Land Acquisition Bill 2015 to be passed in Lok Sabha, where the NDA has overwhelming majority. But now the real hurdle is the Rajya Sabha, where NDA doesn’t have sufficient numbers and is forced to win support from the opposition parties. For scoring political points, the opposition, particularly congress is bent on giving as much resistance as it can offer to scuttle the passing of the revamped version of the Act.
The main issue is the exemption offered to projects under 5 categories from winning consent of the farmers and conducting SIA. But if the government surrenders these provisions to the oppositions’ pressure, then there won’t be any substantial change left in the LARR Act of 2015. That is why Narendra Modi is so steadfast in passing the bill in its current form without any further concessions and changes. There won’t be any logic in passing a Land Acquisition Bill 2015 if it cannot lead to fast and fair acquisition of land for economic development. The 80% consent from landowners for land acquisition had made it quite impossible to acquire land in a fast and efficient manner. This invariably led to shady dealings and corruption.The exemptions have been brought so that land can be acquired fast for infrastructure, national security and industry. It will attract foreign investments into the country and thereby leading to a boost in manufacturing industry and infrastructure. The very success of Modi’s long term economic policies and the Make in India initiative depends on the Land Acquisition Bill.
A Hard but Necessary Decision
Agriculture accounts for 13.7 percent of the GDP but it has closed to 50% of India’s manpower involved. So roughly the half of India’s population is contributing only 13.7 of the GDP. Agriculture sector in India is over saturated with manpower and highly under-saturated in terms of equipments and technology. This has pulled the per capita income in agricultural sector down to abysmal levels. The transfer of manpower to other efficient industries like manufacturing and service sector is the key to the long-term development of the nation. The make in India initiative is the main plank on which India’s future as a manufacturing hub depends. Service Industry alone cannot make India an economic giant. Economic growth has to be spearheaded by the manufacturing industry in the coming decades if we wish to achieve even half of what China already has – alleviating 600 million people out of poverty.
The choices are simple. Either let the country as it is, with an unproductive agricultural sector, where maximum of the farmers are poor and constitute a huge electoral group that is easy to be advantageous during elections, or take the bold step (LARR Act 2015) to bring in investment that will boost economic growth and transform the country in the long run. Political rhetoric and populist actions wont made India a great economic power but hard decisions like the Land Acquisition Bill 2015, which is analogous to bitter medicine pills, can work wonders for the health of the country’s economy.
By Avinandan Choudhury