Protests and debates have always been a feature of land acquisition bills and acts, since its amendment in 2013 by the UPA or the ordinance which was brought into effect in December 2014.
With the ordinance lapsing on April 5, 2015, the Modi government is anxious to pass the Land Acquisition Bill 2015. Unfortunately, the Opposition is relentless in their, well, opposition to the bill and various interest groups are openly protesting the new bill.
Beating all imagination though, a group of adivasis in Jharkhand have taken giving-a-shit to a whole new level. Quite literally.
They sat in a line and took a major dump on copies of the Land Acquisition ordinance.
Now if anyone says the provisions of the land acquisition bill smell funny, you might know why.
Wondering why they are protesting and what this land bill hullabaloo is all about?
Here is a ready reference.
Firstly, what did the British want?
The Land Acquisition Act of 1894 provided for the government to take over land from people for ‘public purpose’, which was very ambiguously defined. Not only this, the land was bought from the peasants and farmers at a lot less than market value.
When the projects for which the land was acquired for did not in reality pan out, it was observed that these lands were either resold or taken over by real estate agents, large industrial houses etc. and in the process, bureaucrats and their son-in-laws made a lot of money.
Consent only on paper and little or no cash for the farmers.
So, what did the Congress do?
Clearly, there was a lot of problem with the British-era land act of 1894. So, in 2013, the UPA Government decided to amend the act by legislating the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (LARR), 2013.
Under this new act, there was provision for consent of the affected families ( 80% for private project, 70% for public-private partnership (PPP) projects ) and social impact assessment, which meant the people had a say in the acquisition process.
The compensation was made proportional to market rates (4 times for rural land, 2 times for urban land) and fertile, irrigated, multi-cropped farmland was to be acquired as a last resort. One of the most important points, however, was that i f the designated project doesn’t start in 5 years, land would to be returned to the original owner.
Though, it does try to address most of the shortcomings of the 1894, it is not without fault.
Problems included excessive litigation due to absence of land records, small-time NGOs mobilising some 10-20% families to stall projects and even legitimate acquisition being dismantled because of the inept social impact assessment. More than anything, the act discouraged entrepreneurs from thinking about acquiring land even for actual developmental activities.
Then, what did the BJP do?
Right after the General Elections in 2014, one of the first issues which the Modi sarkaar wanted to ‘fix’ was the LARR, 2013, barely a year in operation.
In December 2014, an ordinance was promulgated by the government, which effected some crucial changes. The provision for mandatory consent from affected families was removed for five special categories namely, housing for poor, defense installations, rural and urban infrastructure, electrification and social infrastructure.
The requirement of social impact assessment was made more selective, none for the above five categories, and immunity was given to bureaucrats to ensure speedier execution of acquisition-related dealings.
Problem? Limited accountability. Also, the categories exempted from the rigid rules of the act are very vaguely defined. For instance, what exactly do they mean by ‘social infrastructure’? Does a giant mall come under social infrastructure?
The new land bill is said to be more investor friendly and Modi has been accused of diluting provisions of the Land Act, 2013 to benefit big business. Considering Modi’s model of development is heavily based on economic growth, these claims may have credence.
As the Congress leads the charge against the passage of this ‘anti-farmer’ bill, what seems to be more disturbing is the lack of interest of the urban classes about this crucial issue.