Intro : Working in the interest of farmers, the Modi Government’s amendment to the UPA’s land Act of 2013 is a move that ensure fair compensation for farmers.
The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill, 2015 is the result of a long struggle by the farmers. The earlier Land Acquisition Act, 1894, was anti-farmer and allowed the Government to forcefully evict them from their land. In fact, the present Bill is the result of a long struggle of 125 years. Many people are of the view that the contentious legislation and the amendments made by the BJP government are anti-farmer. But this is not true.
Before coming to any conclusion, it is therefore essential to know the developments in the Land Acquisition Act since it was adopted in 1894.
In 1894, the Government of British India passed a legislation which empowered it to occupy the natural resources, including land, of the country. And thereafter the Government was empowered to acquire land in the name of public interest and this practice continued even after independence.
Initially there was no rule about the amount of money to be paid to the farmers as compensation for acquired land. Later, provisions were enacted for compensation but there was still no clear rule on the quantum of money to be paid. This is why, at the time of acquisition of land for the Bhakra Nangal project and the Tehri Dam project, for example, land owners moved the courts. At that time, different courts gave different verdicts in different cases.
Initially, there was also no provision for obtaining the consent of the land owners because acquisition was being done in public interest. However, the term, ‘public interest’, was not defined properly. As such, the establishment of hospitals, roads, schools, dams and canals were treated as public interest projects but the setting up of industrial corridors, for example, was treated differently. The situation changed after economic reforms were introduced in the early 1990s. For example, the declaration of 10,000 acres of land as a cantonment area for the Army was treated a public interest project. And the acquisition of 6,300 acres of land for Delhi Airport, which was required for the development of the country, was also treated as a matter of public interest.
The old Land Acquisition Act was quite controversial as land owned by private individuals where acquired forcefully. A large number of farmers were displaced but no action was initiated to rehabilitate them. Since independence, nearly six crore people have been displaced and they have been paid only a meagre amount as compensation. In the colonial era, the British exploited the farmers. After independence, particularly in the Nehruvian era, the public sector was treated as the primary vehicle for development, but this model too did not favour the farmers.
After the 1990s, the private sector became equally important and the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, was frequently used to acquire large areas of land to establish Special Economic Zone. Keeping in mind the problem faced by displaced farmers, new land legislation was drafted in 1999 by the NDA Government led by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. This draft included suggestions from different organisations and kept in mind the welfare of all sections of society. But a few members of the Union Cabinet opposed the Bill on the point of getting the consent of the farmers. They were of the view that development projects would not be implemented because the farmers would not give their consent. Therefore, the draft was never finalised. Considering the lacunae in the old act, the Land Acquisition Act, 2013, was prepared after long discussion and deliberation. It mandates the consent of 80 per cent of land owners in the case of private projects and 70 per cent for Government projects. It also promised handsome amount of compensation to the farmers. This time , the BJP, as the main Opposition, fully supported the Act.
Now, the question is: Why was the Act modified? The Congress, during its largely uninterrupted rule from 1947 to 2012, used the Act to exploit the farmers and the rural poor. In trying to portray itself as farmer-friendly and sympathetic to the poor the party so complicating the Act that it became impossible to acquire land under the 2013 law. During the UPA regime, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma wrote to the Prime Minister, that, resulting from this law, construction, industrialisation and urbanisation would be hampered. The cost of acquiring land would be enormous and acquisition impossible. Also then, 32 Chief Ministers, including a few from Congress-ruled States, asked for changes in the 2013 Act. Then, why is there so much opposition to the 2015 amendments?
There are a lot of lies behind this opposition. In the present economic scenario, it is not possible for the Government to roll back on the issue of development. The NDA Government has included the 13 exempted categories in the new amendment of the UPA regime’s Act. Because of these exemptions, the Government was earlier empowered to acquire land without giving any compensation. With the NDA Government bringing these exemptions in the amended Bill, the poor farmers will get compensation for their acquired lands. To honour the sentiments of the members of the two Houses, the Government has included nine amendments in the Bill. These are:
- One person of every affected family will be provided a Government job.
- One kilometre area on both sides of road and railway tracts will be acquired for industrial corridors and will be developed by Government agencies.
- For development of social infrastructure, land will not be acquired.
- Land will not be acquired for private schools and private hospitals.
- Land acquisition will be done only for Government institutes and corporations run by the state.
- Compensation amount will be deposited in a single bank account of the beneficiary.
- Officials who are caught violating the law will be prosecuted.
- Farmers will have the right to file complaints in their district.
- Infertile land only will be acquired.
The changes to the 2013 Act have been made by the Modi Government keeping in mind the views of most Chief Ministers, with the aim to develop the country and make available the necessary infrastructure. Considering it, the 2015 Amendment is a positive step for development. It will help in bringing in skill development and opening development centres for youths. The Government Vision for 2022 includes houses for all, toilets, schools and technical centres. The 2015 amendments to the land Act of 2013 puts the Government in a position to make land available for the 2022 vision. The amendments are a result of the development vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who built Gujarat into a developed State.
Many industrial groups and multinational companies are taking interest in the Modi Government’s Make in India programme. But for this plan to succeed, India needs to make available the necessary infrastructure, and to develop a favourable and conducive atmosphere to materialise the dream of a developed India. The realisation of Make in India programme will create jobs for the youths and provide financial relief to the rural poor, farmers, Dalits and Adivasis who are in dire need of a governance model that ensures development and social respect.
Kalraj Mishra (The writer is a Union Minister of Micro,
Small and Medium Enterprises)