The unfortunate incident of a farmer committing suicide in the AAP rally has polarized the debate on the Land Acquisition Act even more, and it has become virtually impossible to get to know the factual details of the act, and the amendment, and learn for yourself whether it is good or bad.
Consent Clause: The existing act has a consent clause which states that 80% of the “affected families” should give their consent to the land acquisition before any land can be acquired by a private company, and 70% for a project under public private partnership.
Notice that this is not 80% of the landowners but 80% of affected families that include the landowners, the tenants, anyone else who depended on the land for their livelihood in the last 3 years, as well as any scheduled tribes or forest dwellers who may lose the right to access the land because of the acquisition.
The new amendment lists out five categories for which it waives off the consent clause, and these five categories are defence, rural infrastructure, affordable housing, industrial corridors, and infrastructure and social infrastructure.
If you look at these five categories, pretty much any project that you can think of can be categorized under this and subsequently you can waive off the consent clause on them.
So, you have an existing situation where you have such a strict clause that not only do you require 80% consent from the landowners, but 80% consent from all affected families, and you have an amendment which for all practical purposes waives off any consent at all.
I think both these situations are really bad. It is not practical to expect 80% approval for any land acquisition specially when you include affected families because just to assess who those affected families are will pose a very real practical and challenging problem. It is not hard to see why land acquisitions have become really difficult in the current situation.
On the other hand, if you remove the consent clause altogether, you give the government wide reaching powers to acquire land from people even when a large percentage of them are unwilling, and I think that is not a fair situation either.
Getting rid of the affected families terminology: The amendment gets rid of the affected families phrase and from what I understand only the landowners will have a say in acquisition. It is very difficult to practically ascertain who the affected families are and unless someone has any ideas on how this can be practically implemented, I don’t see how you can continue to have this terminology and have a good act.
Impact Assessment: The existing act provides for an impact assessment which means that there would be a committee of people who will evaluate whether the potential benefits of the project outweigh the costs, and if there is un-utilized land at the end of the project it is returned within five years, among other things.
The new amendment removes the impact assessment for the five categories, which means you don’t need an impact assessment at all if you are under one of these five categories. I have presented a very simplified version of the impact assessment because they want to get rid of it altogether which I think is completely unreasonable because if you are going to potentially displace a large number of people the least you owe them is a proper assessment of what it is going to take to rehabilitate them.
In my opinion the existing act cripples action because you just can’t go through the restrictive clauses, but the amendment is over-reaching as well because it will remove all the checks that were present to protect the rights of the people.
There has to be a middle way to do this because it is essential that India finds a way to make this happen. There is no way that the millions of Indians who come into the labor force every year can be absorbed in the agricultural or services sector, so developing manufacturing is a must, and to develop an industrial base, land is an imperative.