Parliament’s standing committee report on the government’s land acquisition Bill has sought a thorough tightening of the provisions to ensure involvement of local institutions and an “informed and transparent process”.
Tabled in Parliament on Thursday, it comes down heavily on the provisions allowing the government to acquire land for the private sector for “public goods and services” and in case of public-private partnerships. The panel asks the private sector to fend for itself on acquiring land. Nowhere in the world, it has said, does the government acquire land for private parties for any purpose.
It recommends that ‘public purpose’ in the Bill “be limited to linear infrastructure and irrigation, including multipurpose dams, and social sector infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and drinking water/sanitation projects constructed at state expense”.
The panel notes the Bill confines Gram Sabhas’ role to consultation. It has recommended the Preamble itself be amended to read, “A Bill to ensure in concert with local institutions of self-government and Gram Sabhas established under the Constitution a humane, participative, informed, consultative, and transparent process for land acquisition...”
It said state legislation is required to empower local instititions of self-government to undertake both planning and implementation of economic devement and social justice.
The Bill, says the panel, takes a limited view of food security by excluding only multi-cropped land and irrigated land from acquisition. It has recommended that all agricultural land be kept out of acquisition; if required, this should not exceed five per cent of the state’s total farm land.
The Bill exempts 16 central Acts from its purview, but the panel says there’s no need to do so. It wants all these to be brought on a par with the Bill’s provisions and wants all these amended simultaneously — the Railways Act, SEZ Act, Electricity Act, The Coal Bearing Areas Acquisition and Development Act, National Highways Act, The Atomic Energy Act, etc.
It has said these be amended particularly for the purpose of land compensation, provisions of rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) entitlements and infrastructural facilities to affected owners and families.
The Bill proposed compensation including 100 per cent solatium, which will be four times of market value in rural aras and two times in urban areas. The market value is to be determined based on half the total number of sale deeds recorded in the preceding three years in which the highest sale price has been mentioned. The MPs have said as land rates are usually recorded much below the actual rate to avoid stamp duty, the government should set up a land pricing commission to finalise the cost of land.
It also wants the financial entitlements on R&R in the Bill to be linked to the consumer price index and also brought on a par with state government rates whereever the latter are offering higher relief. It also asked for a special clause to prevent any double displacement.
It has also recommended changes in the Bill to provide for setting up of land banks, which could absorb all land that has been unused for more than five years. It has said such unused land can only be used for a public purpose.
Chetan Bijasur, assistant director of business chamber Ficci, said he welcomed the changes suggested on the definition of public purpose. The Trinamool Congress, which had fiercely opposed the government Bill, has welcomed the tough conditions for acquisition recommended by the committee. Party leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay said, “Forceful acquisition, strong-arm tactics that were rampant in acquiring land, will be done away with if these proposals are incorporated.”
Medha Patkar, whose National Alliance for People’s Movements had deposed before the committee, said it had done a commendable job. Madhuresh Kumar of the NAPM said given the template within which the committee had to work, this was the best that could be done.