Thursday, May 19, 2011

NAC's Working Group drafts note on land acquisition

A Working Group (WG) set up by the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC) has drafted a detailed note on land acquisition and relief and rehabilitation which seeks not only to go beyond the pending government bills on the subject, but recommends that the two be merged into a single National Development, Acquisition, Displacement and Rehabilitation Act.
Interestingly, it rejects the Haryana model that Congress leaders only too often hold up as exemplary. Indeed, the note says that some State government officials with whom the WG held discussions had said that “since land was essential for rapid industrialisation and urbanisation, the attempt should be to make the oustees partners in growth rather than discourage forced acquisition.”
In this context, the WG points out that the Haryana policy “discourages only acquisition of residential areas, but not agricultural land,” and adds that since food security will be a growing concern in the coming decades, policies promoting economic development must be balanced with those encouraging food security, especially by discouraging the acquisition of arable agricultural land.
So, even as land acquisition has taken political centre stage, with Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi challenging the Mayawati government on the issue, and Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram only last week promising that a law will be enacted soon, the WG's note will come up for discussion on May 25 at a meeting of the full NAC. NAC sources told The Hindu that there was a sense of urgency in the council and it hopes to be able to send a draft law well ahead of the monsoon session of Parliament.
The two bills that the WG proposes to merge are the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2009 which proposes amendments to the Land Acquisition Act 1894, and the Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill, 2009 a statutory framework for Rehabilitation and Resettlement (R&R) of persons displaced and affected by any development project.
According to the NAC WG draft, the new legislation should be tested on whether it discourages forced displacement, minimises adverse impacts on people, habitats, environment and bio-diversity, comprehensively defines project affected persons/families, provides for a just compensation and rehabilitation package, ensures a humane, participatory and transparent process and provides for effective implementation.
However, there is disagreement among the members of the WG — Harsh Mander, Aruna Roy and NC Saxena — on one major issue, which will have to be considered by the full NAC.
One view is that “it is appropriate for government to acquire land for private companies” as otherwise, “private companies would exploit unorganised, small and particularly tribal cultivators and pay them a pittance, while depriving them of benefits of R&R.” Dr. Saxena therefore feels that “for non-tribal areas, public purpose should be defined to include ‘the provision of land for any other purpose useful to the general public, including land for companies, for which at least 70 per cent of the project-affected people have given their written consent.' But for tribal areas, the government should acquire even 100 per cent of the land.”
The alternative view is “to explicitly exclude acquisition for a project which has ‘as its primary objective the benefit of a private interest'; requiring instead that the project be directly related to the functions of the government,” and benefit the community as a body. According to this view, even the 1894 Act contained no such provision, and “restrained the eminent domain of the State to projects of public welfare. It would be inappropriate,” the note emphasises, “for democratic India to make this change. For-profit private companies must work within the market, and pay enough to land-holders for them to voluntarily sell their land. ”

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