March 6, 2016

Land Acquisition Act: what are the States up to?

Now that both the ordinances of The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Settlement Act have lapsed, the original Act, as passed in 2013 stands. While the ordinances to amend the central legislation were in full public glare, several states have drafted rules, notifications and clarifications.[1]

Section 109 of the Central Act gives States the power to make rules on a couple of substantial provisions which will essentially dictate how this legislation will be used in their state. These include the amount of compensation; limits to acquisition of land through private negotiation; role of local institutions; objection procedures; ceiling on acquisition of agriculture land; penalties and return of un-utilised acquired land among others.[2]

Before going into the details of this, it will be useful to clarify the instrumentality of land as a resource in the development and economic policy of the country. While justifying the ordinances, the government stated that the proposed amendments were “to meet the twin objective of farmer welfare along with expeditiously meeting the strategic and development needs of the country”.  With a fractious and contentious history of use, land acquisition legislation has alternatively been used by the British Government to acquire land for railways and canals and then subsequently by the Indian Government, most controversially, on behalf of private interests for industry as was seen in Noida and Singur. Instead of the State playing the expected role of the adjudicator between peoples’ right to land and agricultural livelihood and of corporate and private interests in industry for profit such that overall priorities of development and protection of peoples’ rights is maintained, the hypocrisy of conflating private and national interests was called out during this process.

In this context, an analysis of state specific rules provides interesting insights into the development priorities of states.

One is the Social Impact Assessment process by which a detailed participatory methodology is to be followed to ascertain whether that stated reason for acquisition constitutes public purpose or not. This emerged from repeated documentation of widespread abuse of the “public purpose” provision. The appropriate government is to constitute a Social Impact Assessment team with representation from Panchayat, Gram Sabha etc. to carry out this process. Jharkhand has an enabling provision for the blacklisting of the team carrying out this process causing one to wonder whether the State intends this as only an ornamental procedure with options to shut out organisations and people who aren’t amenable to pre-decided outcomes.

Rajasthan, the only state to have drafted its own land acquisition legislation, does away with this process altogether. It also puts in place penalties of imprisonment for people objecting to their land being surveyed and marked out for acquisition for a public purpose.  Further, the draft bill excludes the requirement of consent for infrastructure projects, which has been expanded to include industrial parks, housing projects, roads, highways, and conveniently “any other such project”. This Bill was referred to a Select Committee of the State Assembly and the adoption of the recommendations and its passage was put on hold till a decision on the central legislation was made.

Madhya Pradesh is another state which has used this opportunity to take forward its development agenda. It has adopted the maximum limit of acquisition of agricultural land at 50% of the net sown area in a district or state. It has also opened up the acquisition of irrigated multi crop land such that it does not exceed the highest of such area in an agricultural year during the last ten years, whatever that means. Compare this to strict limits of 1% of all projects in the state in Chattisgarh and 5% in Kerala.

With the role of local institutions during the Social Impact Assessment, consent, public hearing and objections stage, states are to set quorum. Three key states, Bihar, Sikkim and Jharkhand, have expanded the bare minimum prescribed in the central act and insisted on more participation of the Gram Sabha and within that women.

This snap shot of the adaptation of a central legislation to state specific contexts is interesting in itself but given the import of such a legislation it also reflects that the locus of development is now much more relevant at the sub-national level. Controversial provisions will have to be looked at more closely and understood completely by people as the path is now clear for these legilsation's and rules to kick in. 

[1] 11/29 states have mad rules or published clarifications, 8 states have drafted rules that are yet to be passed by the assembly and 10 states have no rules or notifications.

[2] Source: ‘Inside RFCTLARR Act, 2013 State wise Analysis of State Land Acquisition Rules, Notifications, Draft Land Acquisition Rules and New State Land Acquisition Bills’ by Amit Kumar, CACIM

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