Joyita Ghose on the land acquisition laws in the country and the changes that the NDA government’s controversial bill in Parliament makes to the land acquisition act, 2013 brought in by the United Progressive Alliance government.
Earlier this week, a bill to amend the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (LARR Act, 2013) was introduced in Parliament. This bill replaces an ordinance which was promulgated in December 2014.
A brief overview of land acquisition laws in the country, and the changes this bill makes to the LARR Act, 2013 are provided below.
What is land acquisition?
Land acquisition is the forcible take-over of privately owned land by the government. This is not the same as purchase of land, in which case the land owner does not have a compulsion to part with the land.
Currently, land may be acquired by the central or state government for government projects, public-private partnership projects, and private projects which serve a ‘public purpose’. Public purpose includes defence, national security, infrastructure (such as roads, airports, water supply pipelines, etc), housing the poor, among others.
What were the major shifts from the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 to the LARR Act, 2013?
The LARR Act, 2013 was enacted in January 2014, and replaced the Land Acquisition Act, 1894. Major shifts from the 1894 Act to the LARR Act, 2013 include:
Compensation:The 1894 Act required that compensation of 1.3 times the price of land be given to land owners. The LARR Act, 2013 provides for compensation of 2 times the price of land for urban areas, and of 2 to 4 times the price of land in rural areas.
Rehabilitation and resettlement: While the 1894 Act provided compensation to land owners, it did not provide rehabilitation and resettlement to others who were dependent on the land for their livelihood. The LARR Act, 2013 provides for rehabilitation and resettlement for these affected families as well.
Consent: The 1894 Act did not require the consent of land owners when land was acquired. However, the LARR Act, 2013 mandates that the consent of 80 per cent of land owners is obtained when land is acquired for private projects and the consent of 70 per cent of land owners is obtained when land is acquired for public-private partnership projects.
Social Impact Assessment: Unlike the 1894 Act, the LARR Act, 2013 mandates that a Social Impact Assessment is conducted for all projects, except those exempted through the urgency provision. An SIA is meant to determine whether the project serves a public purpose, and what the social impact of the acquisition of land could be on affected families.
Restrictions on irrigated multi-cropped land: The LARR Act, 2013 imposes certain limits on the amount of irrigated multi-cropped land which may be compulsorily acquired.
What are the major changes the bill makes to the LARR Act, 2013?
Exemption of five categories of land use from certain provisions: The bill exempts the five categories of land use from the requirement of obtaining the consent of land owners. Additionally, the requirement of conducting a SIA and limits on multi-cropped land may be waived by the government, for these categories of land use.
The five categories of land use are: (i) defence, (ii) rural infrastructure including electrification, (iii) affordable housing, (iv) industrial corridors, and (v) infrastructure and social infrastructure projects.
The opponents of the bill argue that most items defined as public purpose (that is, for which land can be compulsorily acquired) fall within these five exempted categories.
Return of unutilised land: The LARR Act, 2013 required that land which was acquired and remained unused for five years be returned. The bill changes this to the later of the following; five years, or any period specified at the time of setting up the project. This is meant to address projects which may take more than five years.
Acquisition of land for private hospitals and educational institutions: The LARR Act, 2013 excluded the acquisition of land for private hospitals and private educational institutions from its purview. The bill removes this restriction and allows the acquisition of land for private hospitals and private educational institutions.
Acquisition of land for ‘private entities’: The LARR Act, 2013 was applicable when land was acquired for private companies for projects with a public purpose. The bill replaces ‘private company’ with ‘private entity’. A private entity is defined as an entity other than a government entity, and can include a proprietorship, partnership, company, corporation, non-profit organisation, or other entity. This will enable, for instance, acquisition for a private educational trust.
Offences by government: The LARR Act, 2013 stated that if an offence is committed by the government, the head of the department would be deemed guilty unless he could show that the offence was committed without his knowledge, or that he had exercised due diligence to prevent the commission of the offence. The bill removes this provision. It inserts a new provision which states that if an offence is committed by a government official, he cannot be prosecuted without the prior sanction of the government.