India moves to make land acquisition transparent, fair (Lead)

July 29th, 2011 - 7:35 pm ICT by IANS  

Rahul Gandhi New Delhi, July 29 (IANS) With a spate of controversies and clashes over acquisition of farmland for private projects, the government Friday unveiled a draft bill to make the process transparent and equitable to all stakeholders, notably rural owners, with provisions not only for high compensation but also post-sale rehabilitation.

The name: National Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011.

The thrust of the draft is on compensation based on market value, not less than twice that in urban areas and not less than six times in rural areas. It also ensures a job in projects, or compensation of Rs.200,000, for a family member of land-seller and tenant.

It also seeks to address the need to balance the concerns of farmers who own land, those whose livelihoods depend on asset being acquired, and industrialisation. The bill is proposed as the first federal law on the twin subject of resettlement and rehabilitation.

While not precluding private companies buying land directly from farmers and others, it, nevertheless, wants to ensure that under no circumstance a multi-cropped, irrigated land is acquired.

Land markets in India being imperfect, the government intends to enact a transparent and flexible set of rules and regulations and to ensure its enforcement, Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh says in the foreword to the draft circulated for comments.

In recent years, there has been a spate of protests, some even turning violent, over acquisition of farmland for housing and industrial projects, calling for a transparent set of rules that balances the need for industrialisation with the issue of livelihood.

“Under our Constitution, land is a State subject, but land acquisition is a Concurrent subject. So far, the basic law governing the land acquisition process has been the Land Acquisition Act, 1894,” Ramesh says.

“Although it has been amended from time to time, it is painfully evident that the basic law has become archaic,” he says, adding that it is proposed that the new legislation will also have primacy over 18 other laws on similar subjects.

“The draft bill is being placed in the public domain as part of the pre-legislative consultative process. Comments are invited preferably before Aug 31,” Ramesh says, promising to updated and digitised land records to induce transparency.

Officials told IANS that with such a deadline, the bill - that has evoked huge interest in the wake of the farmers’ stir in Uttar Pradesh backed by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi - will not be introduced in the monsoon session of parliament which starts Aug 1.

Notably, the draft says land can be acquired for private projects only if 80 percent of those affected agree, and defines public purpose as the need that arises for national security, calamities, infrastructure, as also village or urban development.

It says market value of land is what is determined for stamp duty, or average sale price of similar type of land in the vicinity, that is ascertained from the sale deeds entered into in the preceding three years, whichever is high.

For land owners and those whose livelihood depends on land, it calls for subsistence a allowance of Rs.3,000 per month per family for 12 months, and Rs.2,000 per month per family as annuity for 20 years, indexed to inflation

It also says acquirers must provide social infrastructure in the vicinity, with special provisions for affected members of Scheduled Tribes. It also says land must be returned to original owner if not used in five years along with one-fourth of the award amount.

Strict penalties against violators and disciplinary action against public servants for mala fide actions are mooted.

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