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PlanCom advice to new govt: Tweak land acquisition law

Internal report, to be finalised in seven-10 days, may also suggest reduction in subsidies

Nitin Sethi  |  New Delhi 

In order to make the rules more acquisition-friendly, the Planning Commission is likely to recommend that the new government make certain changes to the United Progressive Alliance's (UPA's) land acquisition and rehabilitation law. The Commission has held preliminary discussions on this and the changes are to be suggested as part of a concise internal report to be presented to the government taking office this month.

"We intend to present to the (new) government our views on the economy and the performance so far under the 12th Plan. It will be a short, thematic report and not a page-by-page review. It will also summarise the wisdom of the existing Planning Commission members for the next government," said a senior panel official asking not to be named. He said the report would raise critical issues that needed to be addressed in sectors like infrastructure and was also likely to push yet again for reduction of subsidies - itself not a new argument from the Commission

The panel, a second source told Business Standard, was looking especially at what amendments might be required to make housing and industrial activity easier in urban areas.

The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, was passed after much back and forth within the UPA government. And, it was after a set of compromises then Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh was able to make with the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left parties that the Bill was passed. The Act has not satisfied either side of a polarised debate. While some warn it makes acquisition more cumbersome, others criticise the law for leaving too many loopholes open to exploitation. Many in the Planning Commission, too, have expressed misgivings about the law.

"The Commission has always made its views clear, even if those have been critical of the existing thinking in the government. The land law has helped one part of the problem but it has not made acquisition easier. The report, to be finalised in seven-10 days, will talk of such issues that hinder implementation of the 12th Five-Year Plan," said the official. "It will not be proper for the members or the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission to critique the law openly but we are required to do so as professionals and the report will reflect this. It will, of course, be up to the new members of the Commission and the government to accept or turn down the recommendations."

Another senior official of the Commission raised concerns about the law requiring consent of 70-80 per cent of affected people before acquisition, saying the clause required a re-look. "Sometimes, we see unintended consequences of new laws because of bad drafting."

When contacted, Planning Commission member Arun Maira said he was unaware of any specific review of the land acquisition law being underway. Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, too, said he was unaware of such a separate exercise within the Commission, but confirmed he had tasked the officials to start the mid-term review of the 12th Five-Year Plan.

The current set of commission members and the deputy chairman are expected to resign simultaneously with the dissolution of the existing UPA government, but other senior officials of the Plan panel will continue to serve in their positions under the new regime, till any reshuffle is ordered.

While an official mid-term review is expected to be completed by July, the officials in the Planning Commission are preparing the issue-based report for the new government - indicating many officials within the Commission expect a non-Congress government taking over in May.

The senior official involved in preparing the report for the new government within the Plan panel cited concerns about UPA's excessive focus on laws like the rural employment guarantee law, rather than growth. "We have consistently conveyed to them that it is high growth that leads to bringing people above the poverty line, and not schemes like NREGS (the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme)," he said, adding the report could again push for lowering of subsidies. The move indicates many officials and members (not all) within the Commission were unhappy with UPA's agenda, often anchored in the National Advisory Council, led by UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi.

  • The Planning Commission's recommendations are to be part of an internal report to be given to the new government
  • The report is likely to raise critical issues that need to be addressed in various sectors, such as infrastructure
  • The Plan panel is looking at the amendments that might be required to make housing and industrial activity easier in urban areas
  • The Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, failed to satisfy either side of a polarised debate. Some warned that it made acquisition cumbersome, while others criticised it for leaving too many loopholes open to exploitation
  • The report, to be finalised in seven-10 days, will talk about issues that hinder implementation of the 12th Five-Year Plan and might also push for reduction in subsidies

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First Published: Mon, May 05 2014. 00:59 IST