In recent past, farmers have waged number of agitations against unjust land acquisitions to favour private parties. While the government has been busy acquiring land from the farmers in the name of Special Economic Zones (SEZs), industrialisation and infrastructure or even for opening new universities for the benefit of private companies, the farmers started organising themselves against unjust land acquisitions. The result was farmers’ agitations in Singur, Nandigram (West Bengal), Puri (Orissa), Ski Village (Himachal Pradesh), Bhatta Parsol (Uttar Pradesh) and many others. At many places, government even misused its power and used force to suppress these agitations. However, undercurrent against the present system of land acquisitions forced the government to enact a new law to lessen peoples’ anger.
New bill has been proposed to replace Land Acquisition Act of 1894. Initially the government prepared a Bill but had to abandon the same due to lack of consensus. Later when Shri Jairam Ramesh took over the charge of Ministry of Rural Development, he came out with a new Bill called Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation & Resettlement Bill 2011.
British government’s Land Acquisition Act 1894, is in force even today. British government made this law to enable itself to acquire any land from its legitimate owners in the name of public purpose after giving compensation at a price fixed by the government itself. In a way, this is a law, which enables the government to snatch away land from its owners. This law continued even after Independence and government continued to snatch away land from the farmers at unduly low price. Later on organised agitations from the farmers forced the government to increase the compensation. In general no attention was paid on wider issues pertaining to land acquisitions, problems of loss of livelihood and rehabilitation could never be addressed, and the whole focus was on the amount of compensation against land so acquired.
Claims of the Government
Makers of new Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation & Resettlement Bill 2011, claim that this Bill will address all pending problems relating to Land Acquisition Act 1894. Firstly, it will provide compensation for land acquisition at a multiple of market price and therefore farmers would be duly compensated. Secondly, this Bill restricts the government to acquire multi-crop irrigated land. Thirdly, before land is actually acquired consent of 80 per cent of the affected persons has to be obtained. Fourthly, to do away with the excesses of the past the Act so enacted will be effective retrospectively. Further, we understand that land and its acquisition is a State subject. Therefore, even after this Bill is passed in the Parliament, State governments can enact their respective laws according to their requirements. Thus, makers of this Bill claim that the proposed legislation will help farmers to fetch good price for their land and facilitate the cause of industrialisation.
But a careful assessment of the proposed legislation suggests that this Bill is not only indifferent towards the problems of nation in general and agriculture in particular, this Bill if enacted may add to the problems rather than reducing them.
Food security issues ignored
The present Bill restricts the acquisition of the multi-crops and irrigated land, but all other types of agricultural land has been allowed to be acquired under the proposed law. Parliamentary committee under the chairmanship of Dr Murli Manohar Joshi for Special Economic Zone had reported that land under cultivation has come down from 1850 lakh hectares in 1880 to only 1830 lakh hectares in 2003. In addition, per capita agricultural land is reduced from 0.27 hectare to only 0.18 hectare during the same period. Land use for non-agricultural purposes has been getting increasing at the rate of 2.25 lakh hectares per annum. In fact, official data does not give the true picture of land use in the country, as pictures taken from satellites show that green land has been declining constantly. After the enactment of SEZs Act 2005, the pace of acquisition of agricultural land from non-agricultural purposes has accelerated and lakhs of hectares of fertile agricultural land has already got transferred to companies. Because of all these trends per capita food grain availability has been decreasing at a fast rate, which was 510 grams per person per day in 1990. By the year 2010, this got reduced to 436 grams per person per day. Food security of the nation is in danger. Thus, the need of the hour is to ban the acquisition of any type of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes. However, nobody (not even the Opposition parties) is interested.
The proposed legislation, though talks of the consent of 80 per cent of affected persons, no methodology has been suggested to take this consent. Nevertheless taking consent from even those who are not owners of the land before acquisition is a welcome step. It is true that land acquisition affects both farmers as well as others living in rural areas. Owners of the land do get compensation but there is a need for rehabilitating those who lose their livelihood because of the acquisition. The purposed Bill calls for making two separate authorities for compensation and rehabilitation, and resettlement. Since these two are separate issues but are inter related with each other, it would be advisable to have single authority for both these issue.
Though it has been suggested in the Bill that compensation paid as a multiple of market price, but we should keep in mind that price of rural land is generally very little. Therefore, even after getting compensation at market price the farmer may not be able to rehabilitate himself and may get reduced to landless labourer. If history is any guide, government should make sure that after taking over the land from the farmer, he should be given a piece of developed land and also employment. However, no such provision is found in the proposed Bill.
The most dangerous aspect of the proposed Bill is that it gives unrestricted powers to the bureaucracy. Apart from this, courts up to district level have been disallowed to hear the cases of land acquisition. Under the proposed law, High Courts and Supreme Court can only hear the petitions related to land acquisition. Bureaucracy has not only been allowed to acquire land for public purpose, the definition of public purpose has been made so broad and vague that the government can acquire land for any purpose, stating that to be a public purpose. If the land so acquired is not utilized, there is no provision in the Bill to give the same back to the original owner.