On March 10, Lok Sabha passed a Bill to amend the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. The Bill is now pending in Rajya Sabha. This blog briefly outlines the context and the major legislative changes to the land acquisition law. I. Context Land acquisition, unlike the purchase of land, is the forcible take-over of privately owned land by the government. Land is acquired for projects which serve a ‘public purpose’. These include government projects, public-private partnership projects, and private projects. Currently, what qualifies as ‘public purpose’ has been defined to include defence projects, infrastructure projects, and projects related to housing for the poor, among others. Till 2014, the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 regulated the process of land acquisition. While the 1894 Act provided compensation to land owners, it did not provide for rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) to displaced families. These were some of the reasons provided by the government to justify the need for a new legislation to regulate the process of land acquisition. Additionally, the Supreme Court had also pointed out issues with determination of fair compensation, and what constitutes public purpose, etc., in the 1894 Act. To this end, the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 was passed by Parliament, in 2013. II. Current legislative framework for land acquisition The 2013 Act brought in several changes to the process of land acquisition in the country. Firstly, it increased the compensation provided to land owners, from 1.3 times the price of land to 2 times the price of land in urban areas, and 2-4 times the price of land in rural areas. Secondly, unlike the earlier Act which did not provide rehabilitation and resettlement, the 2013 Act provided R&R to land owners as well as those families which did not own land, but were dependent on the land for their livelihood. The Act permits states to provide higher compensation and R&R. Thirdly, unlike the previous Act, it mandated that a Social Impact Assessment be conducted for all projects, except those for which land was required urgently. An SIA assesses certain aspects of the acquisition such as whether the project serves a public purpose, whether the minimum area that is required is being acquired, and the social impact of the acquisition. Fourthly, it also mandated that the consent of 80% of land owners be obtained for private projects, and the consent of 70% of land owners be obtained for public-private partnership projects. However, consent of land owners is not required for government projects. The 2013 Act also made certain other changes to the process of land acquisition, including prohibiting the acquisition of irrigated multi-cropped land, except in certain cases where the limit may be specified by the government. III. Promulgation of an Ordinance to amend the 2013 Act In addition to the 2013 Act, there are certain other laws which govern land acquisition in particular sectors, such as the National Highways Act, 1956 and the Railways Act, 1989. The 2013 Act required that the compensation and R&R provisions of 13 such laws be brought in consonance with it, within a year of its enactment, (that is, by January 1, 2015) through a notification. Since this was not done by the required date, the government issued an Ordinance (as Parliament was not in session) to extend the compensation and R&R provisions of the 2013 Act to these 13 laws. However, the Ordinance also made other changes to the 2013 Act. The Ordinance was promulgated on December 31, 2014 and will lapse on April 5, 2015 if not passed as a law by Parliament. Thus, the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill, 2015 has been introduced in Parliament to replace the Ordinance. The Bill has been passed by Lok Sabha, with certain changes, and is pending in Rajya Sabha. The next section outlines the major changes the Bill (as passed by Lok Sabha) proposes to make to 2013 Act. IV. Changes proposed by the 2015 Bill to the 2013 Act Some of the major changes proposed by the 2015 Bill (as passed by Lok Sabha) relate to provisions such as obtaining the consent of land owners; conducting an SIA; return of unutilised land; inclusion of private entities; and commission of offences by the government. Certain exemptions for five categories of projects: As mentioned above, the 2013 Act requires that the consent of 80% of land owners is obtained when land is acquired for private projects, and the consent of 70% of land owners is obtained when land is acquired for public-private partnership projects. The Bill exempts five categories of projects from this provision of the 2013 Act. These five categories are: (i) defence, (ii) rural infrastructure, (iii) affordable housing, (iv) industrial corridors (set up by the government/government undertakings, up to 1 km on either side of the road/railway), and (v) infrastructure projects. The Bill also allows the government to exempt these five categories of projects from: (i) the requirement of a Social Impact Assessment, and (ii) the limits that apply for acquisition of irrigated multi-cropped land, through issuing a notification. Before issuing this notification, the government must ensure that the extent of land being acquired is in keeping with the minimum land required for such a project. The government has stated that these exemptions are being made in order to expedite the process of land acquisition in these specific areas. However, the opponents of the Bill have pointed out that these five exempted categories could cover a majority of projects for which land can be acquired, and consent and SIA will not apply for these projects. Return of unutilised land: Secondly, the Bill changes the time period after which unutilised, acquired land must be returned. The 2013 Act states that if land acquired under it remains unutilised for five years, it must be returned to the original owners or the land bank. The Bill changes this to state that the period after which unutilised land will need to be returned will be the later of: (i) five years, or (ii) any period specified at the time of setting up the project. Acquisition of land for private entities: Under the 2013 Act, as mentioned above, land can be acquired for the government, a public-private partnership, or a private company, if the acquisition serves a public purpose. The third major change the Bill seeks to make is that it changes the term ‘private company’ to ‘private entity’. This implies that land may now be acquired for a proprietorship, partnership, corporation, non-profit organisation, or other entity, in addition to a private company, if the project serves a public purpose. Offences by the government: Fourthly, under the 2013 Act, if an offence is committed by a government department, the head of the department will be held guilty unless he can show that he had exercised due diligence to prevent the commission of the offence. The Bill removes this section. It adds a provision to state that if an offence is committed by a government employee, he can be prosecuted only with the prior sanction of the government. Acquisition of land for private hospitals and educational institutions: While the 2013 Act excluded acquisition of land for private hospitals and private educational institutions, the Bill sought to include these two within its scope. However, the Lok Sabha removed this provision of the Bill. Thus, in its present form, the Bill does not include the acquisition of land for private hospitals and private educational institutions. Other changes proposed in Lok Sabha: In addition to removing social infrastructure from one of the five exempted categories of projects, clarifying the definition of industrial corridors, and removing the provision related to acquisition for private hospitals and private educational institutions, the Lok Sabha made a few other changes to the Bill, prior to passing it. These include: (i) employment must be provided to ‘one member of an affected family of farm labour’ as a part of the R&R award, in addition to the current provision which specifies that one member of an affected family must be provided employment as a part of R&R; (ii) hearings of the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Authority to address grievances related to compensation be held in the district where land is being acquired; and (iii) a survey of wasteland must be conducted and records of these land must be maintained. For more details on the 2015 Bill, see the PRS Bill page, here. A version of this blog appeared on rediff.com on February 27, 2015.
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.