The cabinet on Monday approved an ordinance that will make it easy to acquire land for key sectors such as power, defence and housing and kick-start stalled projects worth thousands of crores of rupees.
The ordinance comes barely a week after the end of the winter session during which the government’s reform push was stonewalled in the Rajya Sabha by the opposition that disrupted the proceedings over conversion row and other issues.
“The priority of the government was to bring a balance between the interests of the farmers and the development needs of the society,” finance minister Arun Jaitley told mediapersons after the meeting that was chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The amendment to the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 -- passed by the UPA -- does away with the consent clause and the mandatory social-impact assessment in five areas.
Jaitley identified them as: defence, rural infrastructure, affordable housing and housing projects for poor, industrial corridors, and infrastructure or social infrastructure projects, including those in public-private projects (PPP) in which ownership of land would remain with the government.
The earlier act required the consent of 80% of the affected families if land was to be taken for private parties and 70% for PPP projects.
Procedural difficulties in the acquisition of land required for important national projects required to be mitigated, the government said in a release.
This is the third ordinance moved by the Modi government in less than a week.
On December 24, the cabinet cleared ordinances to auction coal blocks, and increase foreign direct investment) in the insurance sector to 49% from 26%.
The amendment to the land act also brings under its purview 13 central legislations, including those related to defence and national security, to provide higher compensation and rehabilitation and resettlement benefits to farmers whose land is being acquired.
The minister said the interests of the farmers had not been lost sight of and in fact, the compensation and rehabilitation provisions had been expanded. Compensation for land owners would continue to be four times the market value in rural areas and twice in urban areas.
Industry has often complained that the stringent land act was holding up projects worth $300 billion.
The amendment also allows acquisition for multi-crop irrigated land and extends the five-year cap for returning the unutilised parcels to 10 years.
The industry welcomed the move, with the CII saying the cabinet’s approval to the ordinance showed government’s “serious” commitment to economic reforms. “CII has always advocated the need for a simple and transparent land acquisition framework, which is also commercially affordable for industry,” the industry body said in a statement.
But the opposition tore into the government. “By diluting the land acquisition act, the government has proved that it is of the corporates, for the corporates and by the corporates, and the concerns of the poor farmers are farthest from their heart and head,” Congress leader Manish Tewari told HT.
Threatening nationwide protests, the Janata Dal (United) demanded the ordinance be withdrawn immediately.”By taking the ordinance route, the government is trying to avoid any kind of debate on such important issues,” JD(U) spokesperson KC Tyagi said.