The government on Friday released the draft Land Acquisition Bill that seeks to enhance compensation for landowners by up to six times, provides annuity-based payment for 20 years and limits the use of urgency clause to the “rarest of rare cases”.
The draft, prepared by rural development minister Jairam Ramesh against a looming political deadline for Congress to wrap up the legislation, has detailed the type of land and the process that should be followed for acquisition. To begin with, even for public purposes, multi-crop irrigated land is out of bounds.
The land acquisition and relief & rehabilitation (R&R) provisions will apply when the government acquires land for its own use, or for transfer to private companies for stated public purposes or for declared use by private companies. As a safeguard against misuse, the government proposes to ensure that the public purpose once stated is not changed. Further, land acquisition for private players would only be permitted if at least 80% of the affected families sign up. Apart from strategic purposes, infrastructure and industry have been included within the scope of public purpose.
But only the R&R provisions would kick in if private players are buying over 100 acres directly or the government has been roped in for partial acquisition. By specifying this, the government is trying to aid the private sector as well as blunt the opposition from allies such as Mamata Banerjee.
The bill seems to be designed to meet Congress’s objective to trump Mayawati government in showcasing its concern for tillers ahead of Uttar Pradesh polls next year which will influence Rahul Gandhi’s career trajectory. Ramesh, who was brought in a strategic decision to the rural development ministry earlier this month, has sought to neutralize the advantage that Mayawati government tried to secure when she came up with a vastly improved compensation package almost overnight. Her offer bettered the land acquisition policy of the Haryana government which Congress had till then touted as the “model”.
Youth Congress swiftly took credit for the draft, attributing it to Rahul Gandhi’s agitation against Mayawati government over Bhatta Parsaul.
As promised, Ramesh, whose ministry released a draft for public comments, has drawn lessons from Rahul’s ride to Bhatta Parsaul where the Mayawati government had used the urgency clause to acquire village land, leading to protests. If Ramesh’s proposal is accepted, the urgency clause would only be used in case of acquisition for defence and security besides for R&R work arising due to an emergency or a natural calamity.
Besides, the proposed legislation that would replace the antiquated 1894 law seeks to match the compensation being offered by the Uttar Pradesh government in wake of the recent protests against land acquisition. There is possibility of the draft bill being improved further and the credit being ascribed to Rahul who is already in battle mode against the Mayawati government.
For the moment, in urban areas, UPA plans to provide compensation that is at least twice the market value, while in rural areas this has to be at least six times the original value of land.
In addition, landowners, those dependent on land for livelihood and affected Scheduled Tribe families would be entitled to benefits under an R&R package. For landowners and those whose livelihood is impacted, a subsistence allowance of at least Rs 3,000 a month during the first 12 months has been proposed.
Further, the affected families will get Rs 2,000 a month as annuity for 20 years, which would be indexed to inflation. Besides, there is a provision of employment for at least one member of an affected family. Alternatively, a payment of Rs 2 lakh has to be made. Also, offer of shares up to 25% of the compensation has been proposed.
For landowners, in the case of land acquired for urbanization, a sweetener has been proposed in the form of reservation of 20% of the developed land. Those whose livelihood is affected would be entitled to a one-time resettlement allowance of Rs 50,000.
For Scheduled Tribes who may lose land, there are benefits such as one acre land for each family in every project and upfront payment of at least one-third the compensation amount. If the number of families displaced exceeds 100, a Tribal Displacement Plan will be required. Additional R&R benefits in the form of one-time payment of Rs 50,000 is also proposed in case the family settles in another district.
The R&R policy for all displaced people is going to stipulate that the acquirer provide 26 infrastructure facilities such as schools, health centres, roads and electricity connections.
An earlier Land Acquisition Bill lapsed in 2007 and the government was unable to push through a new legislation. UPA decided to push a new bill following the recent uproar in Uttar Pradesh and Mayawati’s claim that her revised policy was better than the much-touted policy in Haryana.
A pleased Youth Congress which works under Rahul said, “The draft bill addresses several issues that the Congress party general secretary Rahul Gandhi has highlighted over the past month and a half since he began his campaign at Bhatta Parsaul seeking a new and better deal, in the shape of a fair and more equitable land acquisition policy, for farmers not just in Uttar Pradesh but across the whole country. The legislation also provides for people who would lose their livelihood due to land acquisition in their area and allow them to brace for changing economic realities around them. Significantly, the draft bill seeks to combine land acquisition with resettlement and rehabilitation.”
The bill has proposed safeguards against what it termed indiscriminate acquisition. Ramesh seems to have drawn from his experience in the environment ministry and has suggested a mandatory Social Impact Assessment whenever 100 acres or more land is acquired. The assessment will be undertaken by a committee headed by the state chief secretary.