New Delhi: The Land Acquisition Bill, which seeks to provide just and fair compensation to farmers while ensuring that no land can be aquired forcibly, was passed by the Lok Sabha on Thursday. The legislation, just like the Food Security Bill, is being viewed as a mega vote-getter in forthcoming elections.
"The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2012" stipulates mandatory consent of at least 70 per cent for acquiring land for Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects and 80 per cent for acquiring land for private companies. The bill, which will replace over a century-old law, proposes compensation that is up to four times the market value in rural areas and two times the market value in urban areas.
Out of the 235 members who voted on the bill, 216 backed it while 19 voted against it. The bill aims to replace a nearly 120-year-old law enacted during British rule in 1894.
While the Congress termed it a historic step, most parties supported it but said fertile land should not be acquired for industrial development. Instead, barren land should be used for the purpose, they said.
Left parties, AIADMK and BJD members staged a walkout. Trinamool Congress voted against the bill while main Opposition BJP, SP and BSP supported the legislation. 381 amendments were moved to the bill, of which 166 were official ones. Of the Opposition amendments, some were withdrawn and others defeated during voting.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Home Minister and Leader of the House Sushil Kumar Shinde, apparently unwell, did not participate in the voting as they left when amendments were being moved.
The government accepted some opposition amendments, including two moved by Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj. These included that instead of acquisition, land could be leased to developers so that its ownership remains with farmers and provide them regular annual income.
Swaraj had also suggested provision for payment of 50 per cent compensation to original owners whose land was purchased after introduction of the Bill in Lok Sabha in September 2011. Government agreed to 40 per cent.
"There will be no forceful acquisition of land under this law. This legislation will provide lawful right of the farmers over their land and no right of forceful acquisition to government," Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh said while winding up the day-long discussion on the Bill.
Asserting that the new law will address "historical injustice", the minister said this law is being enacted under the Concurrent list and the states can bring their own law on the subject without derogating from the central law.
Allaying fears of Muslim community, he made it clear that the Wakf land will not be acquired under this law. The Bill will replace the archaic Act of 1894 which suffers from various shortcomings including silence on the issue of resettlement and rehabilitation of those displaced by the acquisition of land.
In his reply, Ramesh sought to reach out to all political parties including BJP, JD-U, TMC and the Left, telling them that he had tried to accommodate several of their concerns in the bill and many of the amendments suggested by them have been turned into official amendments.
The bill proposes benefits such as land for land, housing, employment and annuities that shall accrue in addition to the one-time cash payments for whose land is acquired.
To address historical injustice, the bill applies retrospectively to cases where no land acquisition award has been made.
No law can be acquired in Scheduled Areas without the consent of the Gram Sabhas and no one shall be dispossessed until and unless all payments are made and alternative sites for the resettlement and rehabilitation have been prepared.
The bill proposed to provide compensation to those who are dependent on the land being acquired for their livelihood. To safeguard food security and to prevent arbitrary acquisition, the bill directs states to impose limits on the area under agricultural cultivation that can be acquired. In case land remains unutilised after acquisition, the new bill empowers states to return the land either to the owner or to the State Land Bank.
No income tax shall be levied and no stamp duty shall be charged on any amount that accrues to an individual as a result of the provisions of the new law. Where acquired land is sold to a third party for a higher price then 40 per cent of the appreciated land value (or profit) will be shared with the original owners.
In every project those losing land and belonging to the SC or ST will be provided land equivalent to land acquired or two and a one-half acres, whichever is lower (this is higher than in the case of non -SC/ST affected families) Where the affected families belonging to the SC and the ST are relocated outside of the district then they shall be paid an additional twenty-five per cent rehabilitation and resettlement benefits to which they are entitled in monetary terms along with a one-time entitlement of Rs 50,000.
The Bill along with the Food Security Bill passed earlier this week are seen as gamechanger by the Congress in the Lok Sabha Elections which are scheduled in May next year. The Land bill aims at making affected persons partners in development leading to an improvement in their post-acquisition social and economic status.
This has been done by establishing strong legal prerequisites that need to be discharged first while acquiring land.
The existing law had the much criticised 'Urgency Clause' which never truly defines what constitutes an urgent need and leaves it to the discretion of the acquiring authority. Apart from this, the prevailing law provided low rates of compensation.
The Bill is being brought for consideration and passage after two all-party meetings, which made the government accept five key amendments suggested by BJP leader Sushma Swaraj and Left parties.
The bill will be the very first law that links land acquisition with accompanying obligations for resettlement and rehabilitation. Over five chapters and two entire Schedules have been dedicated to outlining elaborate processes (and entitlements) for resettlement and rehabilitation.
With Additional Inputs From PTI