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Land Acquisition Bill: Rural or urban development?

Aug 03, 2011

The proposed Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation & Resettlement Bill by the Indian government is not comprehensive and fails to take into account the concerns raised by millions of those affected, opines National Association of People Movements (NAPM)and South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP). The groups argue that the Bill sidelines rural development to focus more on urbanisation.

Here is the reaction of the National Association of People Movements (NAPM) to the new draft of the land acquisition bill.

2011 Land bill militates against 'public purpose'
Favours Companies, Legitimises Private Acquisitions and Ignores Community Concerns: Movements Demand Democratic, Development Planning Act

the land acquisition bill.jpg

The much awaited comprehensive draft of the land acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill promised by Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh . It is commendable that the Ministry has now agreed to reopen the whole process and focus on the pre-legislative consultations and not introduce such an important legislation in hurry in this Monsoon session of the Parliament. However, the proposed draft is not a comprehensive draft but mere combination of the earlier proposed Two Bills and fails to take in account the concerns raised by the millions of project affected people. The Bill focuses on only one concern which is to facilitate land acquisition and serve the land needs of private and public corporations and facilitate urbanization as ‘inevitable’.  There is no concerted attempt to fulfill the task of land reforms and protect the land and livelihood rights of the communities across the country. Nor does the Bill realize the gravity of urban displacement and its linkages with the enormous corruption of the land sharks builder mafia.

NAPM and many grassroots movements across the country have been struggling to protect the land rights of the farmers, forest dwellers and other nature-based communities and ensure their control over natural resources through the Gram Sabha and Basti / Area Sabhas, deciding the development plans for public purpose in their area. Proposed provision of consent of the 80% project affected people is only required wherever the private entities are involved in the process of acquisition whereas all the acquisitions for the government requires no such consent, keeping intact the ‘eminent domain’ principle of the state. This will mean that the proposed projects like Jaitapur, Fatehabad or dams, thermal power plants, airports etc. to be built by the government will not require any consent of the people. The Bill provides the much needed legitimacy for the acquisitions for the private companies since today only by violating the existing LAA 1894 state governments could acquire land in POSCO, Noida or many other places for the private entities.

"The Bill is high on rhetoric but low on content and is many steps backward in the overall debate over the land conflicts in the country today"

This Bill is regressive that way, since the definition of public purpose covers almost everything from building educational institutions to airports to mining, where a large number of private companies are involved. These companies are not there for the public purpose but for making profit and it is in their private interest. Housing for any income group and by private entities will mean legitimising the real estate activities in all its forms. The broad definition of public purpose reduces the process of deciding the public purpose by a committee full of bureaucrats to a farce; it will be reduced to a mere rubber-stamp authority. The Bill also does not satisfactorily take into account the decades’ long experience and progressive inputs by the displaced communities on land and livelihood based rehabilitation. The provision that R&R shall be provided only when more than 100 families are displaced is unreasonable.

The proposed Bill goes back on the significant debates around the concept of public purpose in last two decades and fails to take in account the provisions mentioned in the Draft Development Policy of NAC – I, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development recommendations in 2008 and submissions made by many social movements. The land struggles in Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, AP, Narmada Valley or even in urban centres like Mumbai and Chennai are not just for fair rehabilitation and appropriate compensation, but more fundamentally for communities’ control over the resources – land, water, forest, minerals – and their right to decide the kind and process of development they need or what constitutes public purpose. Unless and until the Bill tries to address these concerns and take in account the Constitutional status of gram sabhas, basti sabhas / municipalities under the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments which mandate the formulation of district and metropolitan level development plans for public purpose by them, the Bill itself will serve no real ‘public purpose’.

"India is not Noida, the architects of the Bill doesn’t seem to recognise the diverse realities of the country"

The Bill is high on rhetoric but low on content and is many steps backward in the overall debate over the land conflicts in the country today. It will in no way quell the ongoing conflicts across the country, armed or otherwise; but will surely facilitate acquisitions in the areas like Haryana, UP and other plain areas, promote real estate and make corporations rich, happy and unruly. However, the communities will have to continue their struggle to save their resources from being taken over by the public and private corporations in the name of public corporations. Although the Bill contains some necessary provisions such as “under no circumstances should multi-cropped, irrigated land be acquired”, it does not address the challenge of large scale diversion of agricultural land across the country for non-agricultural purposes and the consequent impact on the nation’s food security and pauperization of communities.

India is not Noida, the architects of the Bill doesn’t seem to recognise the diverse realities of the country and are only concerned about the nine percent growth, creation of infrastructure and urbanisation; extremely unfortunate for a Bill drafted by the Ministry of  Rural Development which is obsessed with the ambitions of Urban Development.

To oppose these draconian provisions being pushed by the government in the name of ‘protecting farmers’ interest’ and legitimising the acquisitions by the private entities for their profit ventures, NAPM, along with many other social movements of the country from 15 states will be assembling at the Jantar Mantar from August 3rd till 5th under the banner of ‘Sangharsh’. We continue to demand enactment of a 'Comprehensive Development Planning Act' which will protect the land, resource and livelihood rights of the communities and ensure democratic participation of the people in deciding developmental plans for public purpose.

Medha Patkar
Prafulla Samantara
Anand Mazgaonkar
Dr. Sunilam
Rajendra Ravi
Akhil Gogoi
Madhuresh Kumar
D. Gabriele
Sr. Celia
Ramakrishna Raju

* * *
Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) has written a letter to rural development minister Jairam Ramesh, giving the first quick reaction on the draft land acquisition bill. We reproduce the letter here to start off a debate.

Dear Sir,
Broadly, the draft bill seems to lack confidence in grassroots democratic institutions and also a sense or vision of social justice and is basically designed to facilitate land acquisition, as the forward says and not to ensure social justice or democratic planning. It does not show the sense of understanding the injustices done in the past, and nor does it provide a credible manner of ensuring that they are not repeated in future. It seems to suggest that urbanisation, industrialisation and infrastructure development are inevitable, but democratic norms or social justice can be given a go by.

It lacks credible manner of ensuring that land acquisition is allowed only for genuine public interest projects, that too when no other options are available (established in credible manner) and when the decision making process is democratic. Its process of scrutiny of SIA or public purpose lacks credibility. It proposes a strange notion that consent of people is necessary if project is in private sector, but not when the project is in public sector, when history of development in India shows that this is completely unsustainable proposition.

"It[the bill] lacks credible manner of ensuring that land acquisition is allowed only for genuine public interest projects"

The fact that there is no land based R&R (resettlement and rehabilitation) means that the authors have not understood the situation on ground as to how the majority of people of this country get their livelihood. At best it provides one acre of land in case of irrigation projects, which is less than the land holding of a marginal farmer as per the definition, half the land proposed in earlier versions and one fifth of the land stipulated in the Narmada award. Even when there is provision of employment, there is option of giving Rs 2 lakh instead, which is likely to be used by most developers.

On the whole quite a disappointment, in spite of some positive aspects. We hope that the one-month consultation process will be sufficiently credible, transparent and confidence inspiring. Please ensure that the Hindi (and other major languages) translation of the draft is done soon and sent to all gram panchayats with a request to respond after calling the meeting of gram sabhas.

Incidentally, the MRD has such a bad track record on these issues. The institutions that were supposed to be set up under the National R&R policy of 2003 or 2007 have never been set up. So the crisis of confidence in such official mechanisms is natural. May be some steps are immediately required in that regard.

Best wishes,
Himanshu Thakkar

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