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Laws for a ‘perfect’ property based democracy on the horizon

Written By krishna on Tuesday, September 13, 2011 | 11:21 PM

Why the land acquisition bill is flawed

The Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill 2011 argues for a perfect land market, unrestrained urbanisation and industrialization, says Gopal Krishna.

On September 7, Jairam Ramesh introduced the Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill 2011 in the Lok Sabha within six days of the end of the public comment period on the bill that is to replace a 116 year old colonial law. This bill argues for a perfect land market, unrestrained urbanisation and industrialisation.

It sounds strange that rural development ministry is working for urban development as if latter is unquestionably the pre-condition for the well being of rural people and their ecosystem . Will the prime minister reveal the role of urban development ministry if what rural development ministry is doing is indeed its mandate?

Will Ramesh explain as to whether what he said as secretary, economic affairs, Indian National Congress remains relevant or not? Ramesh, a representative "of a generation that was created by public investment" and as a key player in developing India's 1991 economic reforms said in 2001 that "in 1715 they (India) accounted for 25 percent of world industrial output, so it's always been an industrial nation in that sense of the term."

Caught in the time warp and frozen with the contested develop-mentality, corporate fund driven political parties and NGOs are out to decisively put the State and the natural resources on sale unmindful of its cognitive and ecological cost and intergenerational inequity that it promotes almost forever. Both ruling parties and most of the opposition parties are hand in glove in this regard.

These anti-citizen entities are acting as if present and future citizens, gram sabhas, panchayats and zilla parishads do not matter. Their responses to enactment of Special Economic Zone Act, 2005 and its implementation is a case in point.

The Special Economic Zones and land acquisition by companies are about generating financial wealth with naked political patronage at the cost of natural and human wealth. The Land Acquisition Act, 1894 has been useful for it. It is indeed "painfully evident that the basic law has become archaic". It used to be said that company is an artifact of law, it now appears that law such as this is an artifact of companies. Every act of privatisation of the government through legislations like these is quite painful too.

If that is not the case why should State use its sovereign power to acquire land for companies either partially or fully in the name of industrial and urban development or legislate to facilitate the same? If 'development' wasn't a notorious and negative word why has a benign and positive word 'sustainable' pre-fixed to it unmindful of this the bill cites developmental imperatives with the assumption of its innocence.

The argument of Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs that acquisition of land for industrial and urban development is a necessity -- is driven by corporate funding of ruling and opposition parties since 2003 when the ban on company donations was lifted. Clause 59 of the Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011 deals with the provision of 'penalty for obstructing acquisition of land' that seems to be about punishing the protesters and dissenters.

It reads: "Whoever willfully obstructs any person in doing any of the acts authorised by section 9 or section 15, or willfully fills up, destroys, damages or displaces any trench or mark made under section 15, shall, on conviction before a magistrate, be liable to imprisonment for any term not exceeding one month, or to fine not exceeding five hundred rupees, or to both." Ramesh argues that this is required because "Land markets in India are imperfect."

Is it a coincidence that Ramesh who is also a member of the Cabinet Committee on Unique Identification Authority of India related issues has introduced UID provision in Section 10 and 36 of the Land Titling Bill, 2011?

Will CCEA and CCUIDAI reveal all the proposed legislations that are aimed at creating property based democracy?

Can parliament, all its standing committees, state governments and state's legislative bodies ever exchange notes to unearth the legislative web being woven at the behest of transnational financial institutions before it is too late?

In the backdrop of such unanswered questions, the 70-page LARR Bill has 74 Sections and 3 schedules in its English version to deal with the grievance accumulated since 1894. Clause 69 of the bill deals with the 'Return of Unutilised Land'.

It reads: "(1) The land acquired under this Act shall not be transferred to any other purpose except for a public purpose, and after obtaining the prior approval of the appropriate government, and any change in purpose made in violation of this provision shall be void and shall render such land and structures attached to it liable to be reverted to the land owner.

(2) When any land or part thereof, acquired under this act remains unutilised for a period of five years from the date of taking over the possession, the same shall return to the land owner by reversion;

(3) The appropriate government shall return the unutilised land or part thereof, as the case may be, to the original owner of the land from whom it was acquired subject to the refund of one fourth of the amount of compensation paid to him along with the interest on such amount at such rate, as may be specified by the appropriate government, from the date of payment of compensation to him till the refund of such amount; and

(4) The person to whom the land is returned being the owner of the land shall be entitled to all such title and rights in relation to such land from which he has been divested on the acquisition of such land."

Dr Usha Ramanathan, a noted jurist, asks, "What happens when they (the displaced) are unable to buy it back" when the unutilised land is returned. This section permits the transfer of land for another public purpose. This particular clause is not acceptable and has to be removed from the draft bill. Unmindful of widespread concern in the academia and among citizens, the bill has been approved in a tearing hurry by the Union Cabinet which gives rise to valid questions about player behind the curtain in the backdrop of declaration of assets by billionaire ministers.

Schedule I of the bill deals with "compensation for land owners", Schedule II deals with the "list of rehabilitation and resettlement entitlements for all the affected families (both land owners and the families whose livelihood is primarily dependent on land acquired) in addition to those provided in Schedule I and Schedule III deal with "provision of infrastructural amenities" for resettlement of populations "to minimise the trauma involved in displacement."

Referring to schedule II, Ramaswamy R Iyer, former secretary, union water resources aptly concludes that "The principle of 'land for land' has been abandoned" because it is applied for irrigation projects alone that too with a provision that is inferior to the ones made for the displaced in the Sardar Sarovar Project. The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs appears to be under undue influence from the funders of ruling political parties both at the centre and the states to exclude projects for power, mining, flood management, SEZ, urban development and several other 'multi-purpose' projects that cause displacement. So far neither the ministry nor the CCEA has responded to it.

The bill fails to address the question of transfer of agricultural land to non-agricultural use and the implications for food security although it does refer to multi-cropped irrigated land but it is hardly sufficient. It seems to be pursuing the path of regressive Bihar Agriculture Land (Conversion for Non Agriculture Purposes) Act, 2010 which is facing bitter opposition especially in cases where widely acknowledged and awarded fertile lands are being acquired for hazardous asbestos factories amidst paid news journalism and studied silence of opposition parties in the state.

If this is the fate of a state government whose head keeps referring to Ram Manohar Lohia's four tier governance, it is understandable why most of the socialist experiments become an exercise in sophistry. Instead of ensuring that private purchases of agricultural land be subject of state regulation from the point of view of land-use, water-use, soil health and food security, such legislations are indulging in a myopic exercise of according priority to creation of financial wealth at any non-financial cost and risks.

Section 2 of the LARR Bill deal with the definition of the expression "public purpose" includes- (i) the provision of land for strategic purposes relating to naval, military, air force and armed forces of the Union or any work vital to national security or defence of India or state police, safety of the people; (ii) the provision of land for infrastructure, industrialisation and urbanisation projects of the appropriate government, where the benefits largely accrue to the general public; (iii) the provision of village or urban sites, acquisition of land for the project affected people, planned development or improvement of village sites, provision of land for residential purpose to the poor, government administered educational and health schemes, (iv) the provision of land for any other purpose useful to the general public, including land for companies, for which at least 80 per cent of the project affected people have given their consent through a prior informed process; provided that where a private company after having purchased part of the land needed for a project, for public purpose, seeks the intervention of the appropriate government to acquire the balance of the land it shall be bound by rehabilitation and resettlement provisions of this Act for the land already acquired through private negotiations and it shall be bound by all provisions of this Act for the balance area sought to be acquired. (v) the provision of land for residential purposes to the poor or landless or to persons residing in areas affected by natural calamities, or to persons displaced or affected by reason of the implementation of any scheme undertaken by government, any local authority or a corporation owned or controlled by the State". This definition of "public purpose" or common good destroys "the distinction between private use and public use".

In a text "Some notes on the Draft Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation Bill 2011", Ramanathan states that "The eminent domain power in India is not, and in any event should not be, so wide" wherein an inverted Robin Hood is created which takes from the poor to give to the rich.

The draconian black law of 1894 which is proposed to be replaced in the backdrop of massive bitter opposition to Special Economic Zones and environmentally damaging projects in Jaitapur, Haripur , Ghaziabad, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Bihar and Goa where lessons have not been learnt from the bloodshed and violence in Nandigram and Singur. The proposal to amend the Atomic Energy Act, 1962 in the aftermath of West Bengal's denunciation of Haripur nuclear power project in the aftermath of Fukushima and abandonment of nuclear power projects in Germany, Japan and other countries is uncalled for. But strangely, the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill, 2011 was introduced on September 7 itself without any public comments on the Bill. Both these Bills should be deferred till it provides for moratorium on acquisition of land for nuclear power projects.

Unlike in US, the Supreme Court of India observed, "The Act, which was enacted more than 116 years ago for facilitating the acquisition of land…However, in the recent years, the country has witnessed a new phenomena. Large tracts of land have been acquired in rural parts of the country in the name of development and transferred to private entrepreneurs, who have utilised the same for construction of multi-storied complexes, commercial centers and for setting up industrial units. Similarly, large scale acquisitions have been made on behalf of the companies by invoking the provisions contained in Part VII of the Act. The resultant effect of these acquisitions is that the land owners, who were doing agricultural operations and other ancillary activities in rural areas, have been deprived of the only source of their livelihood. Majority of them do not have any idea about their constitutional and legal rights, which can be enforced by availing the constitutional remedies under Articles 32 and 226 of the Constitution."

If the bills are not sensitive to these observations in a context of corporate funding to political parties even if passed by the Parliament, they can be struck down by the apex court as contrary to the Preamble of our Constitution.

Admittedly, there is "asymmetry of power (and information) between those wanting to acquire the land and those whose lands are being acquired" but the role of futures markets in land within India and the land being acquired in African countries does not find any mention. Also "asymmetry of power and information" is acknowledged only to be ignored as if it's a merely an exercise in lip-service. The bill ignores how acquisition of land affects acquisition of water as well. The ministry has failed to provide a white paper on the impact of 1894 Act since its enactment before independence and after independence. A compensation and rehabilitation regime is needed with "reference not to the nature of the project but to the nature of the impact."

The parliamentary standing committee on rural development must ask for the status of the total land acquired and the total number of internally displaced persons till the introduction of the Bill in Parliament. Without such a paper and data, the ministry's rush to get the bill passed is an act in haste which generations to come will repent and it will be considered a monumental failure of Ramesh if he does not undertake rigorous outreach before arriving at a research based decision.

Has his ministry bothered to send this bill to all the sarpanchs and mukhiyas of the country in their language to ascertain its implications and provide suggestions? The passage of the bill in its current shape must be deferred till this is done. The minister can check with his ministry, there is a precedent in this regard, a rural development minister had written such letters to sarpanchs.

This author was shown one such letter in a panchayat at a gram sabha meeting of Mendha Lekha, Dhanora tehsil in Gadchiroli district in July-August 2001. It would indeed be a sad commentary on the ministry and the standing committee headed by Sumitra Mahajan of Bhartiya Janata Party if they fail to genuinely reach out to villages before finalising the bill. The bill must factor in the provisions of Article 243 (G) of the Indian Constitution and Panchayat Extension to the Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act, 1996. It must desist from "forced industrialisation" and forced urbanisation.

This is required to deal with an uncertain future being manufactured by real estate, food and water companies to safeguard agricultural land from being grabbed by powerful national and transnational companies that can undermine parliament, state assemblies, gram sabhas, panchayats, zilla parishads and the government for good by depriving us of our food sovereignty. If our legislature can legislate on land use, water use, land acquisition, rehabilitation, resettlement and land titling with the memory of country's past share in world trade, it will be acting to restore the sovereignty of our Parliament and ensure that companies of all ilk remain subservient to its legislative will.

Gopal Krishna
September 13, 2011

http://www.rediff.com/news/column/why-the-land-acquisition-bill-is-flawed/20110913.htm
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