The union rural development minister, Jairam Ramesh, who has drawn up a new land acquisition bill to replace the Land Acquisition Act of 1894, spoke to HT on various aspects of the new law.
Two international steel giants, ArcelorMittal and Posco, have scrapped projects worth Rs. 72,000 crore because of land acquisition problems. How do you react to this news?
The problems that these companies faced were issues related to state governments. It has nothing to do with the policies of the central government.
If the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LRR) Act were in place, could these problems have been avoided?
Certainly! The incidents prove that the LRR law is all the more required now to make the land buying process transparent. It would have put a transparent mechanism in place and ensured land owners get their due.
But some industry lobbies think the proposed law will lead to a steep hike in land prices.
If the bill leads to more direct land purchases by private players, so be it. Land acquisition had been too easy for too long for many private industries. But this can’t go on forever. The current law, enacted way back in 1894, has not been in the interest of livelihood earners.
It has been said that this bill may actually dissuade companies from investing in India. What’s your opinion on this?
Investments and industries are most welcome. But if they want the government to buy land for them, it must be done under an equitable arrangement where the land owners do not suffer. I am aware of the resentment in some quarters. But I expected this reaction. It is natural for those people who are reaping benefits of the current law to oppose the new law.
What is your agenda now?
My job is to ensure that the process of land acquisition is made transparent. For the first time, we are trying to do justice to the land owners, tribals and other vulnerable groups. We aim to redefine two most-abused provisions—the “public purpose” and the “emergency clause” in land dealings. The 1894 act was bad in design and worse in implementation. We will plug the loopholes.