The UPA government sought to address the politically sensitive issues of land acquisition and rehabilitation of affected people by shrinking the role of the state in acquisitions and offering compensation packages that reflect market rates to the dispossessed.
Rural development minister Jairam Ramesh on Friday released the draft national land acquisition and rehabilitation and resettlement bill, making the rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) policy a part of the land acquisition bill. Two separate pieces of legislation were originally planned.
"Acquisition and rehabilitation are two sides of the same coin. Not combining the two risks the neglect of R&R. This has been the experience thus far," Ramesh said.Protests by dispossessed people have become a volatile political issue in many parts of the country in recent times. The judiciary has increased interventions to protect the interests of farmers, whose lands were taken over under the archaic Land Acquisition Act of 1894, often at a pittance and through arbitrary procedures.
By making the consent of 80% of the affected people mandatory before their land can be acquired, the proposed law will restrict the government's role in the process and make it cumbersome.
The proposed legislation also brings into effect a comprehensive scheme for resettling affected people by assuring them house sites, employment with the project, apart from paying six times the market value of farmland.
However, since the way government calculates market prices based on recorded prices, even after the hike, the compensation would barely reflect the actual market prices.
Apex industrial bodies like CII and FICCI welcomed the draft bill. "The bill is forward looking and addresses long pending concerns on land acquisition," said Chandrajit Banerjee, director general of CII.
"We are pleased to know the draft bill does not envisage acquisition of land by the government for private companies. The government should provide the enabling framework for facilitating the process of acquisition and rehabilitation," said Rajiv Kumar, secretary general of FICCI.
However, political parties reacted cautiously. "We have to study the new draft. But two issues need to be addressed in the bill -- the issue of future value escalation and farmers' share in it and the mechanism to protect farmers from land sharks," said Sitaram Yechury, CPM politburo member and Rajya Sabha member.
But with suggestions invited till the end of August and Parliament's monsoon session ending on September 8, it is highly unlikely that the bill will be introduced in the session starting on Monday.
"I am yet to study the new draft but our basic issue is why should the government act like a real estate agent and get into the issue of buying land?" said Ajit Singh, chief of the Rashtriya Lok Dal.