India needs a comprehensive shift towards better infrastructure, more manufacturing and faster urbanisation, all of which are dependent on the availability of land. The legislation for land acquisition, the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Act, was notified in December 2013. But it is believed to be under review by the new government and rightly so, as many provisions included in the act make land acquisition almost impractical.
The new act, which replaced the 1894 legislation, was expected to cater to development imperatives while also providing a better deal for land-owners and others dependent on the land. However, it only freezes land acquisition through lengthy procedures and the imposition of high costs that render projects unviable.
The CII has taken up the onerous land acquisition legislation with the government over the years, stressing that the principles underlying the process need to promote industrialisation and urbanisation, and that the people impacted by land acquisition must be substantially better off after the process. Land acquisition must be speedy, simple and beneficial for all stakeholders. The issues to be addressed include administrative procedures, the definition of “project-affected families” and their resettlement and rehabilitation, and compensation for land.
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Technology and satellite imagery have made it possible to go in for scientific land acquisition, beginning with the identification of fallow and unproductive lands. These should be demarcated for land bank corporations in each state, which would develop infrastructure and offer plots for industrial use in a transparent manner. Digitisation of records must be fast-tracked to introduce transparency and facilitate detailed planning of land use for industrial, agricultural and residential development. Simultaneously, ex ante zoning of land should segregate available land for different purposes over a 100-150-year horizon.
The act mandates consent of 80 per cent of the affected families when land is acquired for private projects. This should be reduced to 60 per cent, irrespective of land use by public or private entities. Moreover, there should be a specific time-frame for the possession of land after the required consent has been obtained so as to avoid prolonging the process by those who did not acquiesce.
Currently, administrative procedures under the act are complex, convoluted and lack clarity. They require multiple public consultations for various environment and forest clearances, lengthy and detailed negotiations, and the setting up of several authorities and groups for different purposes. The flow-chart would take a minimum time of almost five years if the schedules stipulated in the act are adhered to, and more if not.
A socio-economic and cultural profile of the affected area is to be prepared through a social impact assessment (SIA), which would consider land required, alternate land availability, impact on infrastructure, and many other issues. Formal public hearings are to be held to present the findings of the SIA to obtain feedback and incorporate additional comments. Hearings would also be held at gram panchayats, whose land will not be acquired if they are found to be affected. The number of such hearings is not specified in the act.
After the SIA report is finalised, it would be disseminated and an independent multi-disciplinary expert group would be set up to examine it. There is also a long process of identifying owners and affected persons to obtain consent that commences after the SIA. The gram sabha would then pass a resolution giving or withholding consent to the land acquisition, along with the negotiated and agreed terms of resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R). The required funds can now be placed with the district collector and the R&R process can begin, requiring the construction of a township with specified infrastructural facilities.
The effort should be to ensure transfer of land to the requiring body within two years. Some procedures could be carried out in parallel and a number of public consultations with the same set of people can be avoided. The SIA is a complex procedure and requires professionals with uniform standards of assessment. Model terms of reference may be prepared for different projects for standardisation and a representative of the requiring body should be included in the SIA team.
The compensation package in Schedule I of the act is another factor to be considered with respect to ascertaining if projects are viable. As per CII calculations, stipulated compensation increases the cost of land by about 3-3.5 times, which might deter projects altogether. The new act also mandates employment, cash or annuity at the same rates for all project-affected families, including those who do not substantially lose livelihood, thus adding to land cost.
Industry has also been concerned about retrospective applicability of the act where awards under Section 11 of the earlier act had not been made, and about the return of unused land within a short period.
We hope that the new government will take all these issues into account and review the current act. The country and its young population cannot afford a long wait for the revival of growth and development.
The writer is director general, Confederation of Indian Industry