The proposal to bring about changes to the new land acquisition law, while good in intent, is a fraught one. The Congress and the UPA drummed up the matter as part of their welfare state policy, which sought to compensate people who would lose land for a public purpose, which too had been adequately defined.
Now the BJP, which had supported the law in toto, proposes to dilute some aspects of the law, which industry perceives as too stringent. For example, the idea is abroad that the definition of ‘affected family’ will be changed. According to the definition of ‘landowner’ in the law, a person who holds forest rights under a separate piece of legislation called the Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers Act is deemed one such.
It has also been suggested that the ‘consent’ clause, which is taking the approval of the families whose land is sought to be taken, should be done away with or watered down in a manner such that not more than 50% of the affected families’ imprimatur is required in the case of public-private partnership projects.
The most hard-hitting change proposed is the doing away of the rehabilitation and resettlement steps to be taken. This strikes at heart of the matter because the words ‘rehabilitation’ and ‘resettlement’ are in the name of the Act, which is called the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement.
Some questions stare us in the face. First, if the current land law, which has replaced its precursor law enacted in 1894, is to be changed, so should the laws on forest rights and other related acts. Will the government risk it, given the sensitivity of such issues particularly in areas prone to Maoism?
Second, the reports do not say anything about compensation, which is as high as four times the value of the land in rural areas, and there is objection on the part of industry here also.
Third, if the suggested revisions in laws do come into effect, they might lead to a great deal of migration to urban areas, which are already overpopulated and are bound to cave in under the weight of an increased population. This can also nip in the bud Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plan to build smart cities.
An all-party meeting is eminently necessary to come face to face with the niggling issues. The act had come into force after setting aside suggestions such as keeping multi-cropping areas out of the law’s ambit.
Also, land acquisitions can be made under other laws, and in those cases the present law does not apply. One way out of the obstacles faced by industry is that a range of exceptions can be built into the act so that it does not become a hindrance to industrial growth.
The government should move cautiously on this lest it face the anger of the judiciary.