Land Acquisition Amendment tabled in Parliament, Opposition terms it “anti-farmer”

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Prime Minister NarendraModi led NDA government introduced the controversial Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill here on Wednesday. The bill has been tabled to substitute the Amendment ordinance even though statutory resolutions have been moved against them by the Opposition. However, the situations in both the houses of the Parliament were polar opposites. While the LokSabha proceedings were relatively subdued, the RajyaSabha saw the collective Opposition united against the 2 bills.

The Government failed to prevail over the united Opposition with respect to the Land Acquisition (Amendment) bill, 2015 owing to the vociferous protests. Giving in, the government stated that it will welcome any reasonable suggestions to the Bill after consultation and deliberation with the Opposition. Currently, the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2015 has become a question of prestige for PM Modi, and a matter of honour for the Opposition and activists such as Anna Hazare who have launched their own independent agitation against the Bill, which is touted to be pro-corporate and anti-farmer. However, the BJP has continued to maintain that the Bill is actually pro-farmer.

The Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2015 seeks to make changes in the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, passed by the erstwhile UPA Government.

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The proposed amendment has sought to include under the 2013 Act, all those acts which had earlier been exempted from the purview of the Act, such as acts with respect to national highways, metro rail, atomic energy etc. Moreover, the amendment allows for a fast track process for defence production, rural infrastructure/electrification, affordable housing, industrial corridors and infrastructure projects. The fast track process will include such projects which are being implemented under the public-private partnership model, where the land itself will still be owned by the government. These changes are touted to be beneficial for farmers and business in the country, as farmers will be granted proper compensation and resettlement while the process of conducting business will become comparatively easier, transparent and streamlined.

However, the bill also proposes to make multi-crop irrigated land prone to acquisition for various purposes, chief among them being the building of social infrastructure. The consent clause under the 2013 Act has also been considerably diluted for 5 types of projects- industrial corridors, PPP projects, rural infrastructure, affordable housing and defence. Such projects will be granted an exemption from having to garner almost universal consent from farmers and landholders (as is required under the existing Act). The potential fall out of these exemptions may directly affect farmers and landowners in the country as the terminology of exempted projects is not only ambiguous but also extremely open ended in its wording. The effect of these exemptions may spill over to other kinds of projects not expressly named under the amendment bill.

Further, the clause for mandatory social assessment before the acquisition of land has also been excluded for the above projects whereas the land will only be returned if the project developer fails to adhere to the deadline for completing the projects. While the Opposition is vehement in its protests against these provisions, it has also taken serious exception to the particular provision in the Bill which states if public servants are found in contravention of the Act, they can only be prosecuted with the prior-sanction of the government.

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by Siddhartha Singh.