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Why Land Acquisition Bill in its new avatar makes sense

Last updated on: September 25, 2012 10:51 IST

Why Land Acquisition Bill in its new avatar makes sense

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A Correspondent

Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh believes that renaming the Land Acquisition Bill was felt necessary to eliminate the danger of the price spiralling once the first land is acquired in an area.

The Bill has been rechristened as The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill.

Ramesh told rediff.com that the states get major flexibility to fix compensation in rural areas between two to four times market value depending on the distance from urban areas as against the original Bill mandating compensation of four times the market value in the rural areas.

While the Bill binds even the private purchases beyond a certain threshold for resettlement and rehabilitation, the state governments will have the discretion to decide the threshold. Earlier the Bill applied to all private acquisitions above 100 acres in rural areas and 50 acres in urban areas.

The revised land acquisition bill placed last week before the Group of Ministers set up by the Cabinet in view of differences among the ministers seeks to protect the states' powers and concerns in deference to the land being a state subject under the Constitution.

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The revised Bill provides only the baseline for compensation, leaving it for the states to fix the final award based on a sliding scale of distance from the urban centres and the states can enact own law to give higher compensation or better rehabilitation and resettlement package.

The original Bill was to apply retrospectively for the ongoing land acquisitions where the award has not been made or possession not taken, but the new Bill will apply to only the new acquisitions made after it becomes Act and not retrospectively.

Also, the collector gets power to exclude transactions that he feels are outliers and not indicative of true value while calculating the market price.

The new Bill ensures rehabilitation and resettlement of families of all farmers, landless and livelihood losers who resided in the area for five years or more with a house or one-time financial grant in lieu thereof, annuity of Rs 2,000 per month per family for 20 years, adjustable to inflation, or employment and if employment is not forthcoming, each family will get a one-time grant of Rs 5 lakh.

They will also get a subsistence allowance of Rs 3,000 per month for a year. Other benefits include transport allowance of Rs 50,000 and resettlement allowance of another Rs 50,000.

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Though the Bill discourages acquisition of irrigated multi-crop or agricultural land, it is for the states to earmark how much land should be reserved for protection. There is no capping on restrictions on irrigated multi crop land or net sown area unlike the original Bill capping it to 5 per cent. The procedure related to the functioning of the R&R committee at project-level has been also left to the State Government if the acquisition is by the state. 

The revised Bill that incorporates amendments proposed by the parliamentary standing committee and recommendations of various ministries brings under its purview the central laws like SEZ Act, 2005, Works of Defence Act, 1903, and Cantonments Act, 2006, which were excluded in the original Bill.

As regards the compensation, there is no enhancement of the market value, no multiplier but the solatium on the market value has been hike from 30 to 100 per cent to ameliorate the pain of forcible acquisition, the rural development ministry sources said.

However, in rural areas, the multiplier has been left entirely to the discretion of state governments which may range on a sliding scale from 1 to 2 depending on the radial distance from urban centres. 

Sources said there is a separate chapter to protect interests of tribals and those belonging to the Scheduled Castes, with a special rider that as far as possible no acquisition shall take place in the Scheduled Area, except after comprehensive consultations with the local institutions.

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While the original Bill required consent of 80 per cent of all project-affected families, including the livelihood losers, the revised Bill requires consent of only two-thirds of the land losers, though compensation and R&R will be given to both the land losers and livelihood losers.

Instead of binding the acquirers to take possession of land only after all payments and infrastructural amenities have been provided, the new Bill allows possession after they have put all moneys for R&R in an escrow account.

Jairam Ramesh says interests and concerns of farmers are protected and they will get a guaranteed fair price for their land. Also the collector has to make sure that no other unutilised land is available before he moves to acquire farm land.

The final award has to include damage to any standing crops which might have been harmed due to the process of acquisition, including the preliminary inspection.

In case the agriculture land is acquired for urbanisation purposes twenty per cent of the developed land will be reserved and offered to the farmers in proportion to the area of their land acquired and at a price equal to the cost of acquisition and the cost of development.

In the case of irrigation or hydel projects, affected families may be allowed fishing rights in the reservoirs, in such manner as may be prescribed by the appropriate government.

Farmers are also entitled to the various rehabilitation and resettlement benefits. The Bill mandates a Social Impact Assessment of every project, which must be completed within a period of six months. 

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As regards the tribals, forest dwellers and scheduled castes, one-third compensation shall be paid to the affected families at the outset as first instalment and the rest before taking over possession of the land.

The Bill also envisages a plan for development of alternate fuel, fodder and non-timber forest produce resources on non-forest lands within a period of five years sufficient to meet the requirements of tribal communities as well as the Scheduled Castes.

It says the Scheduled Tribes affected families shall be resettled preferable in the same Scheduled Area in a compact block so that they can retain their ethnic, linguistic and cultural identity. The resettlement areas predominantly inhabited by the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes shall get land, to such extent as may be decided by the appropriate Government free of cost for community and social gatherings.

Any alienation of tribal lands or lands belonging to members of the Scheduled Castes in disregard of the laws and regulations for the time being in force shall be treated as null and void: and in the case of acquisition of such lands, the rehabilitation and resettlement benefits shall be available to the original tribal land owners or land owners belonging to the Scheduled Castes.



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