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Sreelatha Menon: The state's clean-up act

The new land Bill may help Jaithari's farmers who lost 2,400 acres to a power plant for a song

Sreelatha Menon  |  New Delhi 

The new land acquisition Bill is an apology of sorts by the state for its past wrongs that saw blood being shed in Kalinganagar, Chhindwara, Niyamagiri and Bhatta Parsaul — to name a few instances of the people versus the state stand-offs on land acquisition.

But would this be an apology for the sake of an apology, or would it really undo the wrong done in the past and prevent any future mistake?

The retrospective clause added in the amendments proposed for the Bill, according to a government explanation, is meant to “correct historical injustices”.

The Bill applies retrospectively to cases where no land acquisition award has been made. In those cases where the land was acquired five years ago but no compensation was paid, or no possession made, the land acquisition process will be started afresh, in accordance with the provisions of this Act. Where awards were made but no compensation was paid, or no possession made, the compensation will be paid at the rate prescribed under the new Act. Where the award was not made, the entire process will be considered to have lapsed. Also, where acquisition took place five years before the commencement of the new law but no compensation or possession made, the proceedings will be deemed to have lapsed.

Looking back, one of the largest and most grasping acquisitions was in Madhya Pradesh. In the past few years, the state has seen much bloodshed and arrests of several protesting farmers and activists. A total of 127,000 acres have been acquired for mines and power plants in Rewa, Shahdol and the nearby areas, says a Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) representative. BKU’s Rajesh Tikait was sent to jail along with farmers for protesting against the acquisition of 2,400 acres for Moserbaer’s power plant in Jaithari in Anuppur district.

A total of 8,000 acres were acquired in Jaithari, including the land for Moserbaer. BKU’s Yudhvir Sharma says most people are tribals or Dalits, and there are only some people to take up their cause. Tribals were sent away with a compensation of a mere Rs 25,000 per acre for land taken for Moserbaer, he says.

Now, the new Bill raises hopes for the acquisition getting cancelled.

Since the award is due under Section 9 of the land acquisition Act, the acquisition will get cancelled and the land will then be acquired with the consent of 80 per cent of the people, Singh says.

Of course, the thousands of poor farmers, who lost their land to various other projects in the last couple of years, in return for just Rs 25,000 to Rs 30,000 an acre, may not be able to get a better deal — unless, of course, the state proactively tries to get them compensation under the new Bill.

Will the people in Chhindwara benefit from the Bill? Farmers had given their land for an irrigation project for their fields. For decades, the state sat on this land and never carried out any irrigation project. Then, one fine day, the state decided to build the project to supply water to a private power plant. Farmers want their land back, or want better compensation. Will the land Bill help? Farmers are continuing protests in the hope that they would be counted.

As for farmers in Bhatta Parsaul in Aligarh, most have taken the compensation even though under protest. Whether their cases would be revisited under the new Bill is not known.

The retrospective clause, however, could create some confusion in the absence of a state or a neutral authority like an ombudsman to identify cases on which the clause would apply.

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First Published: Sun, December 23 2012. 00:30 IST