Amended version of the Bill should be made public amidst suspicion of collusion between Congress-BJP
Provision of land bank is regressive but is consistent with Kelkar Committee’s recommendations on monetization of land
Instead of acquisition, land should only be taken on leaseWhile revision by Indian Parliament of the regressive Land Acquisition Act, 1894 passed by British Parliament was long due but Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (RFCTLARR) Bill, 2013 should have disapproved of Kelkar Committee’s recommendations on monetization of land and should been preceded by Agricultural Land Conservation Bill. The Bill which got the nod of Lok Sabha earlier was passed by Rajya Sabha on the night of September 4, 2013 by 131-10 votes with four new official amendments, proposed by opposition parties.
It is learnt that Rajya Sabha has returned the Bill to Lok Sabha with amendments. The fresh amendments include one on dilution of retrospective clause with regard to acquisition of land for irrigation projects.
In the absence of rejection of Kelkar Committee’s recommendations on monetization of land and Agricultural Land Conservation Bill, the RFCTLARR Bill is an act akin to putting the cart before the horse in the aftermath of the passage of the National Food Security Bill in a situation where 2,90,740 framers have committed suicide between 2005 and 2011, some 42 % of Indian children face malnutrition and some 67 districts are affected by extremist violence in the name of those who inhabit the republic of hunger.
It is quite rare in the parliamentary history of the country that as many as 187 amendments have been proposed to RFCTLARR Bill. This creates a compelling logic for the Bill to be sent to a Parliamentary Standing Committee now that it has come to the Lok Sabha after amendments in the Rajya Sabha on September 4.
In the Rajay Sabha, Jairama Ramesh, the Union Rural Development Minister moved the Bill “to ensure, in consultation with institutions of local self-government an d Gram Sabhas established under the Constitution, a human e, participative, informed and transparent process for land acquisition for industrialisation, development of essential infrastructural facilities and urbanisation with the least disturbance to the owners of the land and other affected families and provide just and fair compensation to the affected families whose land has been acquired or proposed to be acquired or are affected by such acquisition and make adequate provisions for such affected persons for their rehabililitation and resettlement and for ensuring that the cumulative outcome of compulsory acquisition should be that affected persons become partners in development leading to an improvement in their post acquisition social and economic status and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto, as passed by Lok Sabha, be taken into consideration.” After 119 years, this Bill will replace the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.
It must be recollected that as what was said when of H.W. Bliss who steered the Land Acquisition Bill, 1894 in the British Parliament. He said, “The Bill will not be used in furtherance of private speculations and that the Local Governments should not be subject to pressure, which it might possibly sometimes be difficult to resist, on behalf of enterprises in which the public have no direct interest…”
Commenting on the 2013 Bill, P. Rajeeve, MP from Kerala aptly said, “This is the first time in the world that a Government is ready to acquire land for corporates. Have you heard anywhere in the world Government acquiring land for corporates? Have you heard the Government of United States acquiring land for corporates? Is there any country in the European Union which does that? This is for the first time in the world that a Government is acquiring land for corporates and creating an atmosphere for corporate,” echoing the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development on the Bill.
Given the fact that amended text of t he Bill has not been made available in real time to public, it is good that the MP underlined that “After passing the Bill in the Lok Sabha, the Minister came up with three or four amendments. That means it is trying to further dilute the objectives of the Bill. For irrigation projects, land should be given to the displaced persons. It is a new amendment. That means de facto compensation will be practical. It should be only land. Compensation for displaced persons for irrigation projects is a dilution. I don’t know what the compulsion was. I do not know after passing it in the Lok Sabha, the Minister came up with this amendment to please whom. What was the compulsion? There is a very famous phrase of the Prime Minister called ‘coalition compulsion.’ That is against the interest of the country.”
Ever since political parties started getting a fixed percentage of annual profits of companies they appear to have become a club that represents corporate interests instead of public interest.
Although the Bill has been introduced by Ministry of Rural Development, the obsession with industrialization and urbanisation is such that both ministry’s mandate not, rural welfare. Such an approach is bound to create victims of ‘development’.
The provision of return of unutilized land reads: "Land that is not used within ten years in accordance with the purposes, for which it was acquired, shall be transferred to the State Government's Land Bank. Upon every transfer of land without development, twenty per cent of the appreciated land value shall be shared with the original land owners." Why should the land not be given back to the land owners? In the name of SEZ, thousands of acres of land have been acquired for the corporate houses and they are lying unused. The Bill should have provided for return of these lands to their original owners.
The Bill is quite unfair to sharecroppers because it has been stated that they will deemed to be sharecroppers if and only if they have been cultivating the land for the last three years. Who will decide and certify these three years? The Bill should have made farmers shareholders in the company and other industrial and urban initiatives besides providing for compensation. But under the Bill these tenants will not get compensation as per the definition. Tenants will only get the Rehabilitation &Resettlement package.
The Bill does not provide a solution for a situation where land is acquired at a rate of Rs 5 lakh per care in the name of public purpose and subsequently it is sold at Rs. 1 crore per acre by the government to private companies for monetizing land.This is not a theoretical scenario. As per Vijay Kelkar Committee’s recommendations, which has been accepted in the last Union Budget pre-existing same unutilized land is sought to be monetized.
It is quite immoral on the part of the government to have accepted the recommendations of the Dr Vijay Kelkar committee which recommended sale of government owned lands which has been acquired for ‘public purpose’ since 1894.The Kelkar committee submitted its report on September 3, 2012. The committee has recommended that over the next two-three years the government should raise resources by selling unutilised and under-utilised land of the PSUs, port trusts, and the railways, to fund the infrastructure sector.
Unmindful of farmers long terms livelihood interests, the focus of the Bill remains 'one trillion investment target' set for the infrastructure development in the Twelfth Five Year Plan and in keeping with Kelkar committee’s recommendations.
The Bill bars farmers from going to the civil court against the decision of the Collector overruling their objections to land acquisition. This is indeed unconstitutional. The Bill has a provision that reads: “When any land or part thereof, acquired under this Act remains unutilised for a period of 5 years from the date of taking over the possession, the same shall return to the Land Bank of the appropriate Government by reversion.” The proposal for Land Bank is uncalled for. Such blatant endorsement of land bank is totally unacceptable. The proposal of land bank appears to be included in the Bill with ulterior motives. The land acquired in the past which remains unutilized too should be returned to the land owner. The same unutilized land is sought to be monetized as per Vijay Kelkar Committee’s recommendations.
The question is why Vijay Kelker Committee recommendations are eminently wrong on sale of government owned land.
At para 10 of the last Union Budget Speech, the Finance Minister said, “In September, 2012, Government accepted the main recommendations of the Dr. Vijay Kelkar Committee.” This acceptance of recommendations of the Kelkar Committee merits rigorous scrutiny by the Parlaiment and the informed citizens.
At page 23 of the Kelkar Committee’s report in para 3.3 regarding ‘Disinvestment Receipts, it has been suggested that “On the disinvestment front, in our assessment, Government should raise Rupees 30,000 crore in the next two years. In this regard, we would like to reiterate the Finance Commission’s recommendation that the current system of using disinvestment proceeds for meeting expenditure targeted towards creating capital assets should be continued. Over the next 24- 36 months, there is yet another policy instrument for raising resources for development and that is monetizing government’s unutilized and underutilized land resources. These resources can finance infrastructure needs particularly in urban areas. Such a policy has been effectively utilized in many countries including USA, France, Canada, Australia and China. For monetizing land resources, the potential is considerable given the under utilized prime lands of PSU’s, Port Trusts, Railways, etc. Towards this we recommend setting up of a group to work out the policy framework and institutional modalities. These higher levels of disinvestment will be changing the composition of the balance sheet of the public sector enabling the replacement of capital assets with those that are more in line with emerging and new needs of the national economy.”
The recommendation of sale of government owned lands for private purpose, which has been acquired for ‘public purpose’ since 1894 is grave act of breach of public trust. In fact the land which has been acquired in access of the need since 1894 should be returned to the original owners. This recommendation appears to be a product of lobbying by real estate mafia. Land acquisition act enacted for British India by the British government empowered the government to acquire immovable property at, what was deemed to be, a fair and reasonable price for construction of roads, canals or other public purposes. This 1894 Act replaced all land acquisition laws of 1824, 1839, 1850, 1852, 1857 and 1870. Independent India adopted the 1894 Land Acquisition Act. Administrative procedures for the land acquisition have remained same despite several amendments.
Given the fact that the government has accepted in principle that government owned land can be sold to private entities, it can safely be concluded that following the British Government’s path in independent India central government is grabbing lands using some 17 legislations for land acquisition. Besides these there are state legislation for the same.
Since February 2, 1899, the land acquisition process has been carried in India out under the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 which has been amended 17 times in pre-independence and post-independence. The amendment made in 1962 permitted acquisition by the State for a Company ―"which is engaged or is taking steps for engaging itself in any industry or work which is for a public purpose." The amendments made in 1984 in blurred any differentiation between acquisition for a State purpose and ―acquisition for a private enterprise or ―State enterprise by amending section 4 of the original Act to insert the words ―or for a Company after ―any public purpose. As a consequence, the Courts have interpreted this amendment to mean that any notification of acquisition issued under section 4 need not specify whether the acquisition is for a ―public purpose or for ―a Company.
The power of the government to take private property for public use was established in the colonial times but the power of the government to turn the land acquired for public use into private property is illegitimate and must be challenged.
Kelkar Committee report claims that in USA, France, Canada, Australia and China, there is a policy to sale government owned land to private players without providing any reference is questionable.
The fact is that Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development's report on in the matter of the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Bill, 2011 examined the role of the governments in the countries mentioned in the Kelkar Committee report.
About USA, it says, "After the acquisition of land for private companies became highly controversial, and several State Supreme Courts, including those of Oklahoma, South Carolina, Illinois and Michigan, placed bans on the acquisition of land for private companies, the then President George W. Bush issued Executive Order No.13406 on 23 June 2006 mandating the Government to acquire land only for ―the purpose of benefitting the general public and not merely for the purpose of advancing the economic interest of private parties to be given ownership or use of the property taken."
In European Union, "There is no provision in their laws for the acquisition by the State of land for private enterprises."
In Canada, "The Canadian Expropriation Act of 1985 allows expropriation but only on an exceptional case-by-case basis where the ―real right is required by the Crown for a public work or other public purpose, but not to further the commercial interests of a private company."
In Australia, "There is provision for land acquisition in the Northern Territories but that is primarily aimed at protecting the interests of the local aborigines and their traditional rights to community ownership of land."
In China, "All land is owned by the State and, therefore, it is allotment by the State rather than acquisition by the State which determines the purposes for, and entities to which, land is made available."
If land acquired for public purpose is planned to be sold to private parties, it becomes evident that the acquisition of land which was done in the name of public purpose was ultimately meant to benefit the private entities. Therefore, the reference to the policy of these countries in the Kelkar Committee report appears irrelevant. This incorrect reference seems to have been made with ulterior motives to benefit private entities.
It is clear that in all developed democracies, private purchase of land, not State acquisition, is the norm. There is no provision in their laws for the State acquisition of privately held land for profit-making private enterprises, nor, by extension, for public-private enterprises.
The report of Government of India appointed D. Bandyopadhyay headed Expert Group dealt with the magnitude of the large scale land acquisitions. The report was prepared for the Planning Commission in 2008. The report noted that around 60 million were displaced during the period 1947- 2004, involving 25 million hectare land including 7 million hectare of forest and 6 million hectare of other common property resources. Only a third of the displaced persons of planned development have been resettled. These findings were presented to the Parliament in May 2012.
These displaced people have the first right over the government owned land. Instead of selling the government owned land to private entities as per the recommendations of the Kelkar Committee, land which is a precious natural resource and is the main source of livelihood in the country should be distributed among the landless. As per 'Economic Survey of India 2011' over 1.8 crore rural families in India are landless. The fact is that even the landless are dependent on land for their livelihood.
On September 3, 2012, the three- member Committee on Roadmap for Fiscal Consolidation constituted by the Finance Minister submitted its 38 page report. The Committee was headed by Kelkar, former finance secretary and advisor to the finance minister. The other two members were Indira Rajaraman and Sanjiv Misra. Kelkar also headed the 13th Finance Commission.
It is clear that Finance Ministry’s acceptance of the recommendations of Kelker Committee is yet another instance of the government’s visible opposition to public interest in service of private interests.
The fact remains bringing (previously excluded) Special Economic Zones in the ambit of the Bill is a step in the right direction. This should apply to other 13 Acts like Atomic Energy Act too, which have been exempted.
The inclusion of ‘infrastructure’ instead of ‘agriculture’ under definition of public purpose in the Bill has clearly been done under the influence industry bodies. The Bill by parens patria (constitutional guardian) should have provided relief to lakhs of people who have been displaced since the enactment of various incarnations of legislation for land acquisition by the British Parliament. The Bill’s silence on historical wrongs and its failure to undo those wrongs through just resettlement and rehabilitation is unacceptable.
For Details: Gopal Krishna, ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), Mb:08227816731 (Patna), 09818089660 (Delhi), Web: www.toxicswatch.org, E-mail:gopalkrishna1715@gmail.