Monday, July 11, 2011

Land Acquisition in India and the Debate Going On

In the hoopla associated with the land acquisition, including attempted padyatras thaat have been capturing more than necessary headlines, considering the ruling disposition's double standards over the same (people forget that it was Jawaharlal Nehru who had revoked the Fundamental Right to Property when the tribal people had started to invoke it in courts against mining projects) a closer scrutiny is certainly required over the oh-so-controversial Land Acquistion Act of 1894 and the subsequent amendment that governments have been searching for more than a decade now.

A major flaw associated with the Land Acquisition Act has been the lack of any proper rehabilitation package being promised under the original Act. Under the Act, there were provisions for compensation, but this was not linked to the market price of land, and is to be distributed through the local district magistrate's office in the form of actual handouts, a perfect system of this money disappearing. Moreover, the provision of royalty from these projects is not at all present unlike the mining projects, which in itself is a joke considering iron ore royalty is INR 26/tonne when it is sold at at least USD 1000/tonne. Considering the kind of freehand the government has given these companies, a step back would not be problematic for anyone in spite of all the grumbling one may hear from the industrial sectors. Moreover, the government can certainly design specific compensation packages based on market rates of land that do not lead to money being given all at once - rather stagger the flow of money in the form of a monthly stipend through the banks using direct cash transfers.

A flaw of gigantic proportions has been involving the wording used for the grounds on which land is to be acquired. In the Act, the term 'public purpose' is used liberally, though the same is defined nowhere. Even in the new Act, the term's definition eludes the reader's eyes, and makes the new version of the Act just as draconian as the old one. This leaves the Act and the people to be affected subject to the ruling disposition's mercy who can at any time notify land use and displace people. The Act also does not give any provisions for public hearings on the matter, eventually taking the matter completely out of the people who originally owned the land. Unless this provision comes out, there is no point in even amending the Act. Land acquisition has to be made a conciliatory process and not the disruptive process that it is in its current avatar. People need to be asked the terms and conditions on which they will part with their land, and they should also be made stakeholders in the industry not only through jobs but through shareholding in the project so that they do not feel alienated from the project.

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