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Govt submits objections to Centre

Land acquisition act: Says it is almost impossible to purchase land for public purpose.

As the BJP-led Union Government initiated a discussion on amending the latest Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, which was enacted by the previous Congress-led UPA government, the state government has submitted its objections to certain provisions of the Act before the Centre. It has reportedly told the Centre that under the new Act, it was almost impossible to acquire land for public purpose.

Recently, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari had asked all the state governments to submit their views on the controversial Act. In accordance, Gujarat recently submitted its objections to a number of provisions of the Act to the Centre, demanding they be amended.

One of the most salient objections of the Gujarat government against the new land acquisition law is the Section 4 of the Act, under which the government is required to consult the Panchayat, Municipality or Municipal Corporation concerned in the affected area and carry out a Social Impact Assessment (SIA) study in consultation with them.

Among other things, the SIA has to be finished within six months from its commencement and it includes, among other things, ascertaining if the proposed acquisition serves public purpose or not.

Sources in the state government said that objecting to the Section 4 of the Act, the government has stated that the process for the SIA study should be relaxed.

The state government has also taken objection to Section 7 of the Act, which provides that the SIA report has to be evaluated by an independent multidisciplinary Expert Group that must include two non-official social scientists, two representatives of the Panchayat, Municipality or Municipal Corporation as the case may be, two experts on rehabilitation and a technical expert in the subject relating to the project.

The Act gives this Expert Group the power to recommend to the government to abandon the project if they are not satisfied with it during the SIA.

Sources said that the state government has told the Centre that the concept of having an Expert Group for land acquisition and its powers are not feasible and should be reconsidered.

Moreover, the government has, sources said, also objected to the fact that under this Act, there is no provision that can allow the government to acquire land with the farmers’ consent. “Under the new act, the option of acquiring land with consent of farmers is only open for private or public-private partnership projects. The state government demanded that the provision be amended so as to make the option available to the government as well.”

The Gujarat government has also reportedly objected to a provision that imposes penalty of imprisonment on Land Acquisition Officers (LAOs) if they fail to acquire land in question within the stipulated time.

“If the provision is there, then it would become impossible for LAOs to function. No one will take the job. So, the Gujarat government has demanded to drop the penalty of imprisonment for the LAOs,” sources said.

The other provisions that the Gujarat government mentioned relate to fixing price of the land and ascertaining compensation and solatium to be given to the affected families. Sources said that the Gujarat government has demanded that the issue of finalizing and granting solatium should be handled by the Union government with clarity in the act.

The latest Act in question was enacted by the Congress-led UPA government and the then Rural Development Minister, Jairam Ramesh, has already opposed any move to amend the Act which is barely six months old. Ramesh has advocated to give some time to the new Act before amending it.

Meanwhile, the Gujarat government has framed draft rules for the act while not touching on the controversial provisions.

“The draft rules have been sent to different government agencies and officers which come across the issue of Land Acquisition like LAOs, Gujarat Mineral Development Corporation Limited,  Irrigation Department, Roads & Buildings Department, Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited etc for their comments and suggestions on it.

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