Despite its merits, the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 has exempted irrigation projects.
For example, dams, impacting both environment and poverty, will not undergo the rigour other projects will to get land. This despite irrigation projects being about 40% of the reason why land must be acquired.
Three reasons make this unfortunate. First, think for a quick moment to the most famous of all movements — the Narmada Bachao Andolan. Some of the most important discussions were around people not rehabilitated, the loss of their culture, closely linked with the environment. If irrigation remains exempt, many more Narmadas will bash on regardless, and ecosystems and lives of the poor ruptured.
Second, how will this exemption drive investments? It creates a perverse incentive to invest in a sector that is legislated less, and drives irrigation projects less for their need and more for their potential as business ventures. We don’t know exactly how this will play out, but we should be mindful of such possibilities.
Finally, irrigation is not just about large projects. It can be more localized, and feed crops that are able to thrive using less water. In the era of climate change, we need to adapt, because we will have less predictable rainfall to depend upon, and we have to develop innovative adaptation. Such initiatives could have received a boost if undertaking large irrigation projects was harder. Can the act be amended soon to include irrigation?