Three days after it saw the food security bill through, the Lok Sabha on Thursday passed the controversial land bill, giving a government battered by stinging criticism over the economy’s poor run something to cheer about.
With general elections due in early 2014, the UPA is counting on the proposed law — which gives farmers or land owners a greater say in the acquisition process as well as greater compensation — to be a vote-catcher along with its pro-poor food security legislation. But India Inc believes it could not have come at a worse time.
In this atmosphere of economic turmoil, neither the opposition leaders nor rural development minister Jairam Ramesh spoke of the impact the land bill could have on industry, particularly on the manufacturing and infrastructure sectors.
Instead, summing up perhaps the mood of the House in a poll year, Ramesh justified the 158 official amendments to the Right to Fair Compensation And Transparency In Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation And Resettlement Bill, 2012, saying, “Changes in the law were required to give farmers, Dalits and tribals their rights.”
The bill — which goes to Rajya Sabha next week — says the government cannot acquire land for private projects unless it has the consent of 80% of land owners; 70% in the case of public-private projects.
It puts a cap on the use of the “emergency clause” that enables the government to acquire land in a short time. “The clause,” Ramesh said, “was the most misused provision of the existing bill.”
He also announced that special economic zones, which otherwise enjoy exemptions, would come under the purview of the new law.
During the debate, most of the parties flagged concern over the conversion of farmland for industrial purpose. BJP president Rajnath Singh demanded better compensation for farmers when the government acquires land invoking the emergency clause.
Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav suggested that only barren land be allowed for industrial use.
“The resettlement and rehabilitation cost is likely to go up by about three times compared to the prevailing practice. The bill compensates different categories of affected families at par, not aligned to their losses,” said Confederation of Indian Industry president S Gopalakrishnan.
“The bill would also lead to major delays in the process of land acquisition.”
To replace the 1894 land acquisition act, the UPA government first brought two separate bills in 2007 on acquisition and rehabilitation.
But they lapsed with the last Lok Sabha. In its second term, it had to wait till 2011 to bring a fresh bill as there was resistance within the alliance. That bill underwent further changes in the past three months.