By Piyush Jain, Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab.

There has been a pursuance of several changes, according to the evolution of the demands and the requisites of modern day industrial and developmental goals. One of such has been sought by Narendra Modi government, which has tried to bring a healthy transition to present Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. There have been many disputes in terms of opinion among the different political parties with the inception of the ordinance. However, Finance minister Mr Arun Jaitley has supported it in many terms.

Highlights of the ordinance: the major changes

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Firstly, there is a removal of consent clause and social impact assessment. This has been done by the virtue of Section 10(A) and it has been amended. The amendment suggests that there is no need of taking assent for the undertaking of five major sectors. These five major sectors would unfold as the land acquired for defence, national security, and rural infrastructure, including electrification, industrial corridors and shelter for the poor together with PPP (Public-Private partnership) where the ownership of land continues to be vested with the government. Earlier there used to be the mandatory 80 percent consent provision, but now this ordinance would change those measures. For these five factors, there is need of no assent. The other part of this elaborate social impact assessment. A lot of states have suggested pulling over the present clause of examining impact not only for the owner of the particular land that is acquired, but also the labourers who were working on it or farmers ploughing on it. It is too much to ask for according to Arun Jaitley to assess all the people who are getting affected because then it becomes an uphill task for the government to carry out industrial projects. It has also been mentioned that even the fertility of the land would not be taken into consideration.

Secondly, it has been asserted by the ennoblement of the ordinance that the rehabilitation and resettlement would be done at a good pace and smoothly. There will be a proper mechanism for the compensation. It would not be delayed as it used to be done during the epoch of the UPA government. As far as the amount is concerned, the NDA has kept it the same in consonance with the earlier clause of the Act.

Thirdly, with the help of the 2015 ordinance, in the principal Act, in section 31, in sub-section (2), in clause (h), after the words “affected families”, the words “including compulsory employment to at least one member of such affected family of a farm labourer” shall be inserted, thus the idea is the welfare of people with the help of attraction of public employment.

Fourthly, at many instances questions have been raised about the authentic backup of Section 105 of the Land Acquisition Act. There was no clarity as to how compensation would be given to the farmers and what provisions would apply to the 13 Acts under which land could be acquired by the government. Nevertheless, there were no clear rehabilitation and resettlement policies carved out in those Acts. The acts are as follows:

The Coal Bearing Areas Acquisition and Development Act 1957, the National Highways Act 1956, Land Acquisition (Mines) Act 1885, Atomic Energy Act 1962, the Indian Tramways Act 1886, the Railways Act 1989, the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1958, the Petroleum and Minerals Pipelines (Acquisition of Right of User in Land) Act 1962 and the Damodar Valley Corporation Act 1948. The Electricity Act 2003, Requisitioning and Acquisition of Immovable Property Act 1952, the Resettlement of Displaced Persons (Land Acquisition) Act 1948 and the Metro Railways (Construction of Works) Act 1978. These have been added in order to have a fairer compensation scheme through proper analysis of lands acquired and people who got affected by the acquisition.

Reason behind the Step:

These were the major changes, which were being sought by the government in order to fulfil several goals. There are some reasons for this step. The official reason given by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is that under Section 105 of the Land Acquisition Act, clarity was needed on what provisions apply to the aforesaid 13 legislations. The political reason is that the government is looking to give a message to investors that they’re trying their best to free up procedural bottlenecks which are almost a hallmark of any infrastructure investment in India. The government is looking to boost up manufacturing to make Modi’s ambitious Make in India project a reality and this is a big bold step towards it.

Opposition and Anti-arguments:

Congress has strongly opposed the ordinance saying anybody who is pro-farmer should raise their voice against it. But according to an Indian Express report, Haryana and Kerala, wanted to remove the consent clause for PPP or bring it up to 50%. States like Assam, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh felt that the definition of affected family is too broad. On social impact assessment, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra and Manipur all demanded that the process be restricted only to large projects. Other opposition parties like JD (U), Left and AAP have strongly expressed their reservation about the ordinance. So it will be an uphill task for the government to pass it in Rajya Sabha where the government is in a hopeless minority without Congress’s help at least.

Thus, in a way, the government went through a broad consensus by making the changes. Now it is to be seen if they can get it passed in the parliament eventually and if the revised ordinance will indeed serve the purpose of bringing fresh investment and boost the manufacturing sector without trampling on the rights of the poor.

And the other anti-arguments are:

  • Given the “Immunity” against prosecution, Bureaucrats will play mischief in land acquisition, to help Robert Vadra types unabated.
  • Those “five exempted categories” are very broad- particularly “infrastructure and social infrastructure”. So, Pretty much all projects can be done without social impact assessment or taking consent of 70-80% of affected families. Entire LARR-2013 is made invalid through clever use of words.
  • Social impact assessment (SIA) not required in five types of projects. So, local labourers, artisans, small traders will either get zero or very small relief package, even if their livelihood is lost because of the industrial/infrastructure project.
  • Private colleges and hospitals too can acquire land. But if they continue to charge huge fees, then no real ‘public-purpose’ is served. Mushrooming of self-financed bogus-quality Engineering, Pharmacy and MCA colleges doesn’t help reaping India’s demographic dividend.
  • The ordinance doesn’t specifically say that such private hospitals and school/colleges are exempt from “Social impact assessment” (SIA). But they too can dodge SIA-bullet by claiming it’s a “social-infrastructure” project.

As the government is not in a position to get the amendment passed by majority in Rajyasabha, it becomes the unusual use of power of ordinance by the government, as the ordinance has been promulgated again in 2015.

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