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Although not exactly tried and tested, a more definitive Land Acquisition Bill promises to place fewer roadblocks in the way of acquisition, facilitating speedier implementation of infrastructure projects. A report.The much-awaited National Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011, aimed at protecting the interests of farmers, is likely to be introduced in Parliament during the current Monsoon session. This draft Bill seeks to balance the need for facilitating land acquisition for various public purposes including infrastructure development, industrialisation and urbanisation, while at the same time meaningfully addressing the concerns of farmers and those whose livelihoods are dependent on the land being acquired.The Bill in a nutshellLand acquisition can take place provided 80 per cent of the project affected families give consent to the proposed acquisition.The landowners and livelihood losers will have to be paid compensation. In rural areas, the compensation will amount to six times the market value of the land while in urban areas it would be at least twice the market value. The landowners will be entitled to a subsistence allowance of Rs 3,000 per month for 12 years and Rs 2,000 as annuity for 20 years, with an appropriate index for inflation.In the cases of land acquired for urbanisation, 20 per cent of the developed land would be reserved and offered to the landowners in proportion to the acquired land. Every affected family would be entitled to one job, else Rs 2 lakh.Those who lost their house in the land acquisition process would be provided a constructed house with, in rural areas, plinth area of 150 sq m, and 50 sq m in urban areas, as well as a one-time resettlement allowance of Rs 50,000.If the land acquired is for an irrigation project, one acre of land would be provided to each affected family in the command area.Livelihood losers would get a subsistence allowance of Rs 3,000 per month per family for 12 months and Rs 2,000 per month for 20 years as annuity, factoring in inflation. Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) would get a special package wherein each family was entitled to one acre of land in every project. Those settled outside the district would be entitled to an additional 25 per cent of R&R benefits. The ST families should be paid one-third of the compensation amount at the very outset.They will also have preference in relocation and resettlement in an area in the same compact block and free land for community and social gatherings.If 100 or more ST families are displaced, a Tribal Displacement Plan would be put in place. It would include settling land rights and restoring titles on alienated land and development of alternate fuel, fodder and non-timber forest produce.SCs and STs would also get, in the resettlement area, the reservation and other benefits they were entitled to in the displaced area.The resettlement area should provide at least 25 infrastructural amenities including schools and playgrounds, health centres, roads and electric connections, assured sources of safe drinking water for each family, panchayat ghars, fair-price shops and seed-cum-fertiliser storage facilities, places of worship and burial and cremation grounds.OppositionThough the government has unveiled the Bill aimed at protecting the interests of farmers, differences and protests have started surfacing as socio-political leaders have expressed discontent on certain aspects of the Bill. Social right activists say that the proposed bill failed to take into consideration the concerns of millions of people affected by various projects and hence, was not a comprehensive draft. Various action forums of people have decided to raise issues relating to dams, thermal and nuclear power projects, urban displacement, forest rights and community governance, struggles against corporations and protection of livelihood rights of rural and urban communities in the form of statutory government entitlements like universal PDS and adequate beneficial rights to BPL members. For the government, even differences are there from its allies.Various people's movements demand that the government come up with a comprehensive National Development Planning Act that would take care of the need for land, the land use alterations that are required for genuine public purposes and land reforms for distributive justice.Better late than neverThe government move to unveil the draft National Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill is better late than never. Across the country, industrialisation and infrastructure are hobbled by land-related strife. Singur in West Bengal, anti-Posco protests in Orissa, the movement against the setting up of nuclear power plant in Jaitapur in Ratnagiri, the stir against setting up SEZ in Panvel, the list is long. Lately, the turmoil in Uttar Pradesh, where farmers opposed the acquisition of land by the state, made the government spur into redrafting the new Bill. Such stirs are impeding the infrastructure and industrial developments and spooking investors. Bringing in a set of predictable rules is welcome in such a context. The Bill goes a fair way towards providing a roadmap, scrapping the colonial leftover of currently existing law.Infra projectsThe government says introduction of the new Bill is for the betterment of the public. Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh says, "In my opinion public purpose is development of infrastructure, railways, roads and highways and not malls and shopping complexes." While maintaining that the betterment of common people and farmers is imperative, it should not hinder industrialisation and infrastructure development. It seems at least a few clauses mentioned in the draft Bill can be a cause of concern for various development projects in the country, especially infrastructure projects in the pipeline. Making land acquisition prohibitively difficult or expensive will slow down industrialisation and inclusive growth. The blanket ban on acquisition of multi-cropped irrigated land, which constitutes 40 per cent of India's agricultural land is the most difficult provision that has been included in the Bill. Most such land runs through Punjab, Haryana, UP, Bengal, and Bihar. The ban could topple the prospects of industrialisation in these states.Though the Bill is still in the drafting stage, its imminent clearance at the Centre could facilitate the infrastructure projects in major cities. But the biggest facilitation will be in rural land acquisition. The Bill still needs to effectively address a major concern from its critics: If wet and high-produce agricultural land is not to be touched for infrastructure projects, how will development in the Gangetic states like Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal be affected?The real estate industry has contended that the bill in its current form would only serve to derail the development process, especially in infrastructure and township projects. Restrictions on the acquisition of fertile land, land for private companies and private purposes are the sore points for the developers. The experts say it could result in an increase in prices.Defining public purpose: The Bill broadly defines 'public purpose' including industry and infrastructure along with strategic projects. The term refers as much to government building public infrastructure as to its facilitating private projects largely benefiting the people. If solicited, government can acquire land for transfer to private companies for a stated public purpose. Its flexible role in transaction can help resolve last mile problems arising from speculative holdout by landowners. However, the clause mandating industry obtain consent from no less than 80 per cent of acquisition-affected families can baffle mega industrial hubs requiring huge tracts of land, as envisaged under the National Manufacturing Policy.R&R: The relief and rehabilitation (R&R) terms proposed in the Bill are generous. If implemented right, they should go a long way towards addressing current injustices in land acquisition. However, industry feels that compensation in rural areas at six times the market rate combined with R&R will hugely raise project costs. It also rightly demands proper digitisation of land records. Central and state governments must free up land held up in excess of their needs for productive uses.OutlookStreamlining definitions in the sensitive issue of land acquisition is an achievement in itself. The draft Bill definitely addresses various issues pertaining to the process of land acquisition considering the emotions of the farmers and the necessities of the infrastructure development. However, clauses such as consent of 80 per cent of project-affected families and the ban on acquisition of multi-cropped irrigated land are some hindrances towards infrastructure development. If the Ministry effectively address these issues, the much expected transparency and rational approach towards land acquisition can be achieved.Practitioners will argue that well-defined Mining and Land Acquisition Bills, even if they are somewhat short of what the industry would have desired, is far more acceptable than ambiguous bills whose loopholes become reasons for protests and hurdles in development. The new Bill allows planners to define their projects more predictably from the drawing board stage.