Thursday, February 26, 2015

“Amendment to the Land Acquisition Bill (2013) of India or is it the Land Grab Bill of India 2015”

BJP’s Narendra Modi led Government of India introduced amendments initially through an ordinance in Dec 2014 and on 24th Feb 2015 introduced Land Acquisition Amendment Bill 2015 in the Lok Sabha. While the opposition parties, farmers associations and organisations are branding changes proposed through the ordinance to the Land Acquisition Act 2013 as ‘anti-farmer’ or Land Grab Bill of India, the government claims that the new amendments will benefit farmers.

Fact: The Land Acquisition Act 2013 was originally introduced and passed by the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government in 2013, replacing the Land Acquisition act of 1894. For the first time in recent 2-3 decades of law making in India, Land Acquisition Act of 2013 was passed after wide ranging consultation with various stakeholders involved and with active participation, and support of BJP (which was in opposition and UPA-2’s lack of parliamentary numerical strength meant BJP’s support was crucial to get the law passed), The Act of 2013 was studied in greater detail within the parliamentary standing committee for 2 long years before being introduced and passed in 2013 (with active consent and support of BJP).

On 24th February 2015 BJP’s Modi led Govt of India introduced Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill, 2015 proposing changes to the act which was passed in 2013. BUT the Fact is the Land Acquisition Act 2013 has not been fully implemented across the country due to various reasons such as elections across different states, famed un-responsive Indian bureaucracy and eventually culminating in the announcement of 2014 Lok sabha elections.

The above move of the Govt of India led by Narendra Modi has generated a huge hullabaloo across the political spectrum and ruckus within the farming community across India. The government believes its decision is in many ways a course correction to the 2013 Act passed by UPA as it was deemed (or may I say allegedly deemed) as restrictive by India Inc and its various industry bodies. But the govt’s decision has increased apprehensions within the farming community that they may yet be left high and dry (in spite of the law providing suitable levels of compensations).

The Pro’s and Con’s of the proposed amendment to that of the 2013 original land acquisition act are:

Why BJP think’s changes are pro farmer and yet pro investors = Getting the balance right
Why farming community think, govt amendments are anti-farmer & pro-crony capitalists
The Land Acquisition Act 2013 passed by UPA kept most frequently used acts for Land Acquisition out of the purview of the act. These acts include:
  • Coal Bearing Areas Acquisition and Development Act 1957,
  • National Highways Act 1956,
  • Land Acquisition (Mines) Act 1885,
  • Atomic Energy Act 1962,
  • Indian Tramways Act 1886
  • Railways Act 1989,
  • Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1958,
  • Petroleum and Minerals Pipelines (Acquisition of Right of User in Land) Act 1962
  • Damodar Valley Corporation Act 1948,
  • Electricity Act 2003, Requisitioning and Acquisition of Immovable Property Act 1952,
  • Resettlement of Displaced Persons (Land Acquisition) Act 1948 and
  • Metro Railways (Construction of Works) Act 1978.
These acts are applicable for national highways, railways, energy projects, electricity related projects, and general infrastructure related projects etc.
The proposed amendments brings all those exempted from the 2013 act under the purview for the purpose of compensation, rehabilitation and resettlement. Therefore, the amendment benefits farmers and affected families.
Farmers welcome the move to include the 13 acts for which land acquisitions are made. There is no opposition to this per say!  
BUT why remove  
  • Consent requirement
  • As per the existing law, land will be given back to the farmer if it remains unused for five years.
  • Multi crop agricultural land can also be considered for acquisition – it is the proverbial cardinal sin of any govt to do so!
for sectors namely industrial corridors, Public Private Partnership projects, rural infrastructure, affordable housing and defense.

Historically across India, it is the PPP projects or projects launched and carried out by the govt which have taken more time, money, money and resources to complete and deliver the objectives set out. The delays benefit not the farmers who have given their land, or the general public for whom the govt undertakes these projects but private parties who are contracted out to carry out the works! Here is lies the fault lines.

Further-more if the projects are of strategic importance why aren’t or shouldn’t it be completed within 5yrs? If they can’t be complete and if there is enough progress, what is the harm in taking re-consent? If re-consent are taken, then at least there is transparency, efficiency and honesty on project delivery. Also there has been no example of any farmer saying no to parting land if it is of national importance or strategic development (as they are being compensated subject to social impact assessment).

In UK for example to put up a small scale shopping mall or a high rise, the project doesn’t get cleared if in excess of 30% raise concerns and object. This is done primarily to empower the people and to make them party to the development process.

One doesn't need to look too far and wide to see why farmers are opposing the removal of consent. As I come from Bangalore, Karnataka, India - if one looks at land prices around Bangalore airport, new IT & BT parks, Bangalore-Mysore corridor, airports across all district headquarters etc just to name a few. In all the above projects more than required land has been acquired, projects have invariably not been completed on time (loss to the Govt), crony capitalists in the form of real estate mafia has taken over the surroundings thanks to the help of fear mongering via Survey Dept of various govts who covertly support such activities, resulting in farmers seeing their land being developed and appreciated 5-10x times in a span of few years. Whereas farmers aren't part or any upsides nor do they get sustainable and self respectable jobs! If one looks around Bangalore airport, most farming community children are now working as cleaners, sweepers and or doing petty menial jobs - whereas in the past they were self-employed earning their own living through agricultural means!

Look at the below link on how Adani Group got land at cheapest prices and more than 50% of it is not been put to use! 

So removing consent merely shows that the government wants to enforce its decision without really taking into account the interests of the people but indirectly help contractors and crony capitalists to be part of the game-plan!
The new amendments removes social impact assessment & 80% consent clause, potentially allowing a fast track process for national strategic issues in defense production, rural infrastructure electrification, affordable housing, industrial corridors and infrastructure projects including projects taken up under Public Private Partnership mode.

Social impact assessment is a key factor going forward given the haphazard manner in which development has taken place in India  (for example just look at how cities have grown, infrastructure lacking thanks to bad if not no planning), thus there is enough case to make social impact assessment. If such acquisition is done in rural areas and areas where adivasi’s live, they shall not just loose their livelihood, but the very habitat they and their ancestors have inhabited for many decade, hence social impact assessment makes logical sense. 

There is no example across India on farming community being taken on board and projects being approved in consultation with them post scientific assessment of social, economic & environmental issues concerning the community or the surroundings.

The govt should not forget its fundamental duty is towards its citizens and they need to be involved in the decision making process when issues are concerned about their livelihood!

Example to consider – Land in Gubbi Taluk has been earmarked to build new manufacturing facility for HAL – there was very little opposition from farmers to let go of the land for strategic reasons, as the said land was not suitable for agriculture.  Whereas if the same land was to be highly irrigatable then it would be a cardinal sin to have acquired such land, as farmers would have earned their living with self-respect!
Send positive message to India Inc and more so to the investor community about removing potential procedural bottlenecks that has been the hallmark of any infrastructure investment in India.

Good that the govt wants to send a positive message to free market believers. BUT why is the very same govt not taking the concerns of farming community?

According to free market economics, every project should be looked in terms of RoI - so the govt should consider sustainable economic package for farming community whose land has been acquired. I don't see any aspects of sustainable economic package being talked in the proposed amended bill. 

Whereas in the 2013 Act there were enough checks & balances to ensure farming community interest was at the heart of the law. 
No changes to the compensation levels when compared to the 2013 act. The compensation package remains the same. 4 times the market price for rural and 2 times for urban land.
Welcome move – BUT here again are two issues:
  • Why acquire multi crop irrigatable land?
  • Why no proviso made in the bill to ensure bureaucrats who have committed mistakes can’t be prosecuted instantly? The original bill gave powers to do so whereas the proposed amendment wants govt sanction necessary for prosecution!    Why will the govt which supported the acquisition in the first place provide sanction to prosecute its own officers?
Selling the story of having heard to the investors’ concerns and reacted to ensure a conducive environment for overall development
The move of the Govt appeases the crony capitalists who want all sorts of sops for them but oppose sops or benefits given the weaker sections and the farming community.
Govt should include representatives of the farmers during project clearances else restore the 80% consent levels, social impact assessment and 5yrs return policy!