The government's acquisition of land for projects has been facing protests across the country, the violence in Uttar Pradesh being only the latest. What is Land Acquisition? Land acquisition is the process by which the government forcibly acquires private property for public purpose without the consent of the land-owner. It is thus different from a land purchase, in which the sale is made by a willing seller. How is this process governed? Land Acquisition is governed by the Land Acquisition Act, 1894. The government has to follow a process of declaring the land to be acquired, notify the interested persons, and acquire the land after paying due compensation. Various state legislatures have also passed Acts that detail various aspects of the acquisition process. Land is a state subject. Why is Parliament passing a law? Though land is a state subject, "acquisition and requisitioning of property" is in the concurrent list. Both Parliament and state legislatures can make laws on this subject. Is there a new Act being proposed? The government had introduced a Bill to amend this Act in 2007. That Bill lapsed in 2009 at the time of the general elections. The government has stated its intent to re-introduce a similar Bill, but has not yet done so. What are the major changes being proposed? There are significant changes proposed in the 2007 Bill with regard to (a) the purpose for which land may be acquired; (b) the amount of compensation to be paid; (c) the process of acquisition; (d) use of the land acquired; and (e) dispute settlement mechanisms. We explain these briefly below. Purpose: Currently, land may be acquired for a range of uses such as village sites, town or rural planning, residential purposes for poor or displaced persons, planned development (education, housing, health, slum clearance), and for state corporations. Land may also be acquired for use by private companies for the above purposes or if the work "is likely to prove useful to the public". The 2007 Bill had a narrower list: (a) for strategic naval, military or air force purposes; (b) for public infrastructure projects; and (c) for any purpose useful to the general public if 70% of the land has been purchased from willing sellers through the free market. Compensation: The current Act requires market value to be paid for the land and any other property on it (buildings, trees, irrigation work etc) as well as expenses for compelling the person change place of residence or business. It explicitly prohibits taking into account the intended use of land while computing market value. The 2007 Bill requires payment of the highest of three items: the minimum value specified for stamp duty, the average of the top 50 per cent by price of land sale in the vicinity, and the average of the top 50 pc of the land purchased for the project from willing sellers. For computing recent land sale, the intended land use is to be used. Thus, agricultural land being acquired for an industrial project will be paid the price of industrial land. Process of acquisition: Several changes are proposed, including the requirement of a social impact assessment. Any project that displaces more than 400 families (200 in hilly, tribal and desert areas) will require an SIA before the acquisition is approved. Use of land acquired: The 2007 Bill requires the land acquired to be used for that purpose within five years. If this condition is not met, the land reverts to the government (it is not returned to the original land owners). If any acquired land is transferred to another entity, 80 pc of the capital gains has to be shared with the original land-owners and their legal heirs. Dispute Settlement: Currently, all disputes are resolved by civil courts, which results in delays. The 2007 Bill sets up Land Acquisition Compensation Dispute Resolution Authority at the state and national levels. These authorities will have the power of civil courts, and will adjudicate disputes related to compensation claims. Does the proposed Bill address the major issues? The Bill narrows the uses for which land may be acquired. It also changes the compensation due and links that to the market price for which land is to be used. There could be significant changes in acquisition for use by private industry. Firstly, they would have to purchase at least 70 pc of the required land from willing sellers (presumably, at fair market price). Second, the compensation amount for the remaining (upto 30 pc of land) could be significantly higher than the current method. This would be at a premium to the average paid to the willing sellers, and it would be based on intended industrial or commercial use which usually commands a higher price than agricultural land. However, the effect on acquisition for projects such as highways and railways will not be significant, as there is no benchmark for price determination for such use. This article appeared in Rediff News on May 12, 2011 and can be accessed here.
The Uttarakhand Assembly concluded a two-day session on November 30, 2022. The session was scheduled to be held over five days. In this post we look at the legislative business that was carried out in the Assembly, and the state of state legislatures.
13 Bills were introduced and passed within two days
As per the Session Agenda, a total of 19 Bills were listed for introduction in the span of two days. 13 of these were listed to be discussed and passed on the second day. These included the Uttarakhand Protection of Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (Amendment), Bill, 2022, and the Uttarakhand Anti-Littering and Anti-Spitting (Amendment) Bill, 2022.
The Assembly had proposed to discuss and pass each Bill (barring two) within five minutes (see Figure 1). Two Bills were allocated 20 minutes each for discussion and passing - the Haridwar Universities Bill, 2022, and the Public Service (Horizontal Reservation for Women) Bill, 2022. As per news reports, the Assembly passed all 13 Bills within these two days (this excludes the Appropriation Bills). This raises the question on the amount of scrutiny that these Bills were subject to, and the quality of such laws when the legislature intends to pass them within mere minutes.
Figure 1: Excerpt of Uttarakhand Assembly's November 2022 Session Agenda
Law making requires deliberation, scrutiny
Our law-making institutions have several tools at their disposal to ensure that before a law is passed, it has been examined thoroughly on various aspects such as constitutionality, clarity, financial and technical capacity of the state to implement provisions, among others. The Ministry/Department piloting a Bill could share a draft of the Bill for public feedback (pre-legislative scrutiny). While Bills get introduced, members may raise issues on constitutionality of the proposed law. Once introduced, Bills could be sent to legislative committees for greater scrutiny. This allows legislators to deliberate upon individual provisions in depth, understand if there may be constitutional challenges or other issues with any provision. This also allows experts and affected stakeholders to weigh in on the provisions, highlight issues, and help strengthen the law.
However, when Bills are introduced and passed within mere minutes, it barely gives legislators the time to go through the provisions and mull over implications, issues, or ways to improve the law for affected parties. It also raises the question of what the intention of the legislature is when passing laws in a hurry without any discussion. Often, such poorly thought laws are also challenged in Courts.
For instance, the Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022 in this session (five minutes had been allocated for the discussion and passing of the Bill). The 2022 Bill amends the 2018 Act which prohibits forceful religious conversions, and provides that conversion through allurement or marriage will be unlawful. The Bill has provisions such as requiring an additional notice to be sent to the District Magistrate (DM) for a conversion, and that reconversion to one’s immediate previous religion will not be considered a conversion. Some of these provisions seem similar to other laws that were passed by states and have been struck down by or have been challenged in Courts. For example, the Madhya Pradesh High Court while examining the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 noted that providing a notice to the DM for a conversion of religion violates the right to privacy as the right includes the right to remain silent. It extends that understanding to the right to decide on one’s faith. The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2006 exempted people who reconvert to their original religion from giving a public notice of such conversion. The Himachal Pradesh High Court had struck down this provision as discriminatory and violative of the right to equality. The Court also noted that the right to change one’s belief cannot be taken away for maintaining public order.
Uttarakhand MLAs may not have had an opportunity to think about how issues flagged by Courts may be addressed in a law that regulates religious conversions.
Most other state Assemblies also pass Bills without adequate scrutiny
In 2021 44% states passed Bills on the day it was introduced or on the next day. Between January 2018 and September 2022, the Gujarat Assembly introduced 92 Bills (excluding Appropriation Bills). 91 of these were passed in the same day as their introduction. In the 2022 Monsoon Session, the Goa Assembly passed 28 Bills in the span of two days. This is in addition to discussion and voting on budgetary allocation to various government departments.
Figure 2: Time taken by state legislatures to pass Bills in 2021
Note: The chart above does not include Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. A Bill is considered passed within a day if it was passed on the day of introduction or on the next day. For states with bicameral legislatures, bills have to be passed in both Houses. This has been taken into account in the above chart for five states having Legislative Councils, except Bihar (information was not available for Council).
Sources: Assembly websites, E-Gazette of various states and Right to Information requests; PRS.
Occasionally, the time actually spent deliberating upon a Bill is lesser than the allocated time. This may be due to disruptions in the House. The Himachal Pradesh Assembly provides data on the time actually spent discussing Bills. For example, in the August 2022 Session, it spent an average of 12 minutes to discuss and pass 10 Bills. However, the Uttarakhand Assembly allocated only five minutes to discuss each Bill in its November 2022 Session. This indicates the lack of intent of certain state legislatures to improve their functioning.
In the case of Parliament, a significant portion of scrutiny is also carried out by the Department Related Standing Committees, even when Parliament is not in session. In the 14th Lok Sabha (LS), 60% of the Bills introduced were sent to Committees for detailed examination, and in the 15th LS, 71% were sent. These figures have reduced recently – in the 16th LS 27% of the Bills were sent to Committees, and so far in the 17th LS, 13% have been sent. However, across states, sending Bills to Committees for detailed examination is often the exception than the norm. In 2021, less than 10% of the Bills were sent to Committees. None of the Bills passed by the Uttarakhand Assembly had been examined by a committee. States that are an exception here include Kerala which has 14 subject Committees, and Bills are regularly sent to these for examination. However, these Committees are headed by their respective Ministers, which reduces the scope of independent scrutiny that may be undertaken.