Thoughts on the Land Acquisition Bill

The unfortunate incident of a farmer committing suicide in the AAP rally has polarized the debate on the Land Acquisition Act even more, and it has become virtually impossible to get to know the factual details of the act, and the amendment, and learn for yourself whether it is good or bad.

I spent a few hours last week reading the original bill from 2013, and the recent amendment, and there are three main points that are the sticking points as far as I am concerned.

Consent Clause: The existing act has a consent clause which states that 80% of the “affected families” should give their consent to the land acquisition before any land can be acquired by a private company, and 70% for a project under public private partnership.

Notice that this is not 80% of the landowners but 80% of affected families that include the landowners, the tenants, anyone else who depended on the land for their livelihood in the last 3 years, as well as any scheduled tribes or forest dwellers who may lose the right to access the land because of the acquisition.

The new amendment lists out five categories for which it waives off the consent clause, and these five categories are defence, rural infrastructure, affordable housing, industrial corridors, and infrastructure and social infrastructure.

If you look at these five categories, pretty much any project that you can think of can be categorized under this and subsequently you can waive off the consent clause on them.

So, you have an existing situation where you have such a strict clause that not only do you require 80% consent from the landowners, but 80% consent from all affected families, and you have an amendment which for all practical purposes waives off any consent at all.

I think both these situations are really bad. It is not practical to expect 80% approval for any land acquisition specially when you include affected families because just to assess who those affected families are will pose a very real practical and challenging problem. It is not hard to see why land acquisitions have become really difficult in the current situation.

On the other hand, if you remove the consent clause altogether, you give the government wide reaching powers to acquire land from people even when a large percentage of them are unwilling, and I think that is not a fair situation either.

Getting rid of the affected families terminology: The amendment gets rid of the affected families phrase and from what I understand only the landowners will have a say in acquisition. It is very difficult to practically ascertain who the affected families are  and unless someone has any ideas on how this can be practically implemented, I don’t see how you can continue to have this terminology and have a good act.

Impact Assessment: The existing act provides for an impact assessment which means that there would be a committee of people who will evaluate whether the potential benefits of the project outweigh the costs, and if there is un-utilized land at the end of the project it is returned within five years, among other things.

The new amendment removes the impact assessment for the five categories, which means you don’t need an impact assessment at all if you are under one of these five categories. I have presented a very simplified version of the impact assessment because they want to get rid of it altogether which I think is completely unreasonable because if you are going to potentially displace a large number of people the least you owe them is a proper assessment of what it is going to take to rehabilitate them.

In my opinion the existing act cripples action because you just can’t go through the restrictive clauses, but the amendment is over-reaching as well because it will remove all the checks that were present to protect the rights of the people.

There has to be a middle way to do this because it is essential that India finds a way to make this happen. There is no way that the millions of Indians who come into the labor force every year can be absorbed in the agricultural or services sector, so developing manufacturing is a must, and to develop an industrial base, land is an imperative.

12 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Land Acquisition Bill”

  1. Very helpful in understanding the essence of the matter. Thanks for your effort to go through the bill and summarizing it for us!

    1. Thanks PP. This is not a great in depth analysis but I think it is a start, the analysis that Chandrahas has shared in the comment above is very good, and you could read it if you haven’t already done so.

    1. That’s a great analysis – thanks for sharing.

      I thought about compensation and felt that if you have a consent clause then the law itself shouldn’t dictate what the compensation is. At places it could be four times the market rate, and at others ten times. If you have a law where you have 51% of the landowners agreeing to a certain compensation then I think the law itself doesn’t need to prescribe compensation. What do you think?

      1. Welcome Manshu.

        I agree with your thoughts. The value of 4x (or anything else) is unjust. Since the state lacks a solid way of determining the market price, compensation should be left alone for both the parties to decide upon.

        1. Yes, I think that is the crux of this situation, the state lacks a way to determine this effectively.
          Some of it is also touched upon by the article you shared where the authors point out that the committee will inevitably lead to bureaucracy and red tape and potentially corruption as well.
          This is opposite of what I thought initially but I can see merit in the argument that having a committee of babus to determine this is not the best way forward.

  2. Balanced analysis. It is disappointing, being a democracy, we should take advantage of debates to find the middle ground. But most parties and Leftist Activists, just spread misinformation in the name of poor. AAP has now truly become Just Another Party. BJP, instead of attacking propaganda, is attacking activists.
    Debate should not be about whether we need infrastructure projects or not. Debate should be how to bargain, and extract the max benefit for everyone from the new projects.

    1. AAP is turning out to be a disappointment for sure, when I first heard about the rally, I was surprised that there is a rally to begin with. Don’t they need to govern rather than hold rallies.

  3. Thanks Manshu finally I see someone actually mention whats the problem with the new bill instead of shouting their opposition.
    Can see new bill allows for lot of misuse. My own family lost a bit of land to govt acquisition claiming it was for SEZ but we can never be sure it was for same and we got peanuts for a prime location. Politicians can misuse their office to appropriate prime land in the name of development and as an ordinary individual you are completely helpless.The previous govt in TN got thrown out for this exact reason where no piece of land was safe under their regime.
    I think PM Modi is assuming an ideal scenario where the motives are always right whereas its the opposite.

    1. I Googled up this issue last week to learn some facts about it and was surprised by how little information is present about it. I think your example is a good one that shows why consent is needed. I’m guessing there would have been zero percent consent in a case such as yours, and that’s probably the instructive part as far as this amendment is concerned. 80% is too high, but 0% is certainly not acceptable either. Something like 51% is more reasonable and should be discussed so experts in this matter can give their opinion.

  4. Nicely worded and summarized. I agree totally with your wording and construct.

    The problem is finding the mid-way, creating a win-win situation. It is never satisfactory. There will always be those who will remain adversely affected.

    So the quest to find the perfect formula must continue, however I feel it is a Utopian concept and can never become a reality.

    I am sorry about just agreeing and not providing a solution but I truly feel there cant be a perfect solution.

    Either execute as China does (Governments right) or execute as Americans do (Capitalist right).

    We follow the democratic socialist secularist agenda. No way anything can get done without sacrificing one or the other values. We have tried and hence, even though we have had progress, everyone continues to remain dissatisfied with the system.

    1. I think discussion of the act itself is where people’s energies should be and currently we don’t have that at all which is very negative, and doing no body any good except for perhaps TV channels.

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