Land owners feel governments are working as agents of industry
The Draft Land Acquisition and Resettlement and Rehabilitation (LARR), 2011 has been put in the public domain for a period of one month for wider consultation and building consensus. Before we analyse the new draft of the proposed Bill, it is imperative to understand why there has been so much anger, resentment and conflict associated with the compulsory acquisition.
It is extremely pertinent and important to point out at the outset that the country does not have a land use policy. Despite there being awareness about the critical need to have a land use policy and having created institutional mechanism (Ref. 1) for the same, nothing substantial can be said to have been done in this area. Once we have such a policy in place, the agricultural fertile land which is under cultivation and which is being indiscriminately acquired by the state for development, thereby causing so much conflict in its wake, can hopefully be halted.
Let us examine here some generic issues in the existing law which confers almost unbridled powers on the state in some respects in the guise of ‘eminent domain’, ‘public purpose’ and ‘urgency’.
Does “Public Purpose”, really serve public?
This Act defines public purpose in a very loose manner so as to allow enough room for the government to enable it to term any project for which it intends to acquire land as public purpose. When land is acquired for development imperatives, one needs to be very clear that such development should not be at the cost of land tilling farmers and rendering all land dependent people homeless and jobless. We need to make these people stakeholders in the process of development. They should also directly benefit from the development. We can’t continue to treat them shabbily in the name of pursuing development agenda and public purpose. Hopefully in the proposed Bill this aspect would be taken care of and the phrase ‘public purpose’ would be categorical and specific in nature.
Indiscriminate use of Urgency Clause
The Act confers power on the state to acquire land when there is urgency without following the normal process of acquisition. The irony of the situation is that the governments have been invoking this urgency clause with impunity. The latest Greater Noida case and land acquisition in Badalpur in UP for laying parks, are some recent examples from a long list of such cases.
Compensation, how fair and realistic?
The method employed for fixing compensation is primarily based upon the price of land shown in government records in a period preceding 3 years from the date of issuance of intention notification by the state. It is unfortunately an acknowledged fact, even by the finance minister of the country in his budget speech this year, that the country faces a huge governance deficit. This governance deficit is a direct outcome of integrity deficit which is manifested in the fact that the price shown in the registration of land or any property sale deed is not a true reflection of the prevailing market conditions.
People routinely undervalue their property to save on the tax which needs to be paid on such transaction and also to have a conduit for their black money. In such a scenario how far it is fair to base all the calculations for computing the compensation for compulsory acquisition on such a misleading figure? The system of circle rate also has not been able to curb the menace as somehow the circle rate too is not a true and real indication of the prevailing market rates. We need to have a system in place which ensures that property undervaluation is minimised if not stopped so that it is as close to the market reality as possible.
Why should the fruits of development and industrialisation be enjoyed by only those owning adjoining lands which did not get acquired in the first instance?
Another issue that needs to be flagged over here is that till now even the Supreme Court of India has not been able to come out with generic, uniform and categorical guidelines about the factors that need to be taken in to consideration for computing the value of the land or property.
Type of land and its value
Normally the use to which the land is put to at the time of acquisition or the type of land as it is shown in the revenue records is one of the factors that plays a crucial role in the determination of the value of the land. If the proposed acquisition of the government is for a public purpose of setting up a factory or some infrastructure project then the fact that the land is fertile or barren or any other type as per the revenue record should be irrelevant from the point of the use that it is intended to be put to. The type of land should therefore not be allowed to play such a crucial role especially when it has no bearing on the proposed activity for which it is being compulsorily acquired.
Potential price escalation after acquisition
If the proposed acquisition is for some industrial and development activity which is likely to have a positive, appreciative effect on the surrounding land that is not being acquired, then this factor should have a bearing upon computation of compensation. People whose land has been chosen to be compulsorily acquired should not be made to suffer a financial loss due to them being the chosen ones. Why should the fruits of development and industrialisation be enjoyed by only those owning adjoining lands which did not get acquired in the first instance?
I sincerely hope that the proposed Bill does address all these issues and we have a fair, just and equitable system in place where development is not achieved at the cost of poor and hapless people by making them resentful, angry, homeless and jobless. We need to make these people partners in our progress.
To read the detailed paper on the issue, click here
Ref. 1: At the institutional level however there are National Land Use & Conservation Board (NLCB) (est. 1983), under Ministry of Agriculture, and National Land Use and Wastelands Development Council (NLWC) (est. 1985), under Ministry of Rural Development. The council is the highest policy planning and co-coordinating agency for all issues concerning the country’s land resources. The Prime Minister of India is the Chairman of the Council.