Speaking to Business Standard about the Land Acquisition Bill recently cleared by the Cabinet, union rural development minister MB Jairam Ramesh said that though the farmers’ protests in Uttar Pradesh provided the impetus, the Bill was as much a political response to a poll problem as a legal response to a social issue. Edited excerpts:
What prompted the Bill?
One of the most important motivations was the public protests that surrounded land acquisition in Uttar Pradesh and the political context was Rahul Gandhi's padyatra in the state. So, it is useful to compare the UP land policy and this Bill.
Are you not making it all political when the issue is not so?
It is a political attitude, as I am a political animal. It is as much a political response to a poll problem as a legal response to a social issue. A bill for land acquisition is a political action.
Was there any heated debate in the Cabinet before the draft was finally approved?
There was no heated debate. There was concern on two issues, that the cost of land would go up substantially and that public-private partnership projects would be impacted. Some changes were made in response and to everyone's satisfaction.
What were Rahul Gandhi's contributions to the Bill?
He was the strongest advocate of a single Bill for acquisition, compensation and resettlement. He felt we should have an integrated approach. He supported the idea of compensation for land losers as well as livelihood losers. He insisted that in tribal areas, where bulk of the acquisition would take place, it should be in consonance with existing laws for Schedule 5 and 6. He said if a tribal family was relocated to a non-schedule 5 area, it should continue to enjoy constitutional protection. He was also a strong backer of the retrospective effect after his padyatra. He felt that we must address some of the ongoing disputes with the Bill. It would be fair to say that without his backing the Bill in this form would not have happened.
Would it help the Congress in UP?
That depends on the Congress in UP. But it would definitely be an important political issue.
What is the biggest change this Bill seeks to bring?
You have to seek consent of 80 per cent of the people affected by the project before you acquire any land. Imagine even for an airport 80:20 applies. Both the government and private parties have to pay at least the minimum compensation prescribed with just some exceptions.
Will the new law apply in Uttar Pradesh?
UP will have to comply.
Would 80 per cent of gram sabha have to give their consent?
No that is only in the case of schedule 5 and 6 areas. In other places, only 80 per cent of project-affected families (PAF), including landless dependents have to agree.
Who would identify PAFs?
This would be done during the social impact assessment which would be done by the authorities concerned.