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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Explained: Haryana’s changes to land law; why they have been criticised

The Opposition Congress has criticised the Bill for allegedly being “anti-farmer” and promoting “crony capitalism”.

Written by Varinder Bhatia | Chandigarh |
Updated: August 26, 2021 7:44:52 am
Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar (seen in the Assembly) and his deputy Dushyant Chautala (left) have defended changes to the law. (Express Archive/Jasbir Malhi)

The Haryana Assembly on Tuesday passed The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Haryana Amendment), Bill, 2021, which seeks to expedite development projects by simplifying the procedure for acquisition of land.

The new law has brought Public-Private Partnership (PPP) projects to the ‘exempt’ category, for which Social Impact Assessment (SIA)/ consent of landowners, a requirement under the Central Land Acquisition Act of 2013, is not required. The Opposition Congress has criticised the Bill for allegedly being “anti-farmer” and promoting “crony capitalism”.

The Narendra Modi government’s attempt to amend the Central law in 2014 had failed since the BJP and its allies did not have a majority in Rajya Sabha at the time. The Centre dropped the idea, but asked states to suitably amend the law in their jurisdictions.

Exemptions from SIA

Following the passage of the amendments by the Assembly, the government will not be required to obtain the consent of landowners, or carry out a Social Impact Assessment for a range of projects. They include:

Projects vital to national security or defence of India; rural infrastructure including electrification; affordable housing, housing for the poor and for rehabilitation of persons displaced due to land acquisition or a natural calamity; industrial corridors set up by the state government or its undertakings wherein land up to 2 km on either side of the designated railway lines or roads can be acquired; infrastructure projects relating to health and education, PPP projects wherein the ownership of land continues to vest with the state government, and urban Metro and rapid rail projects.

Under the Central Act, it is mandatory for the government in PPP projects to seek the consent of at least 70 per cent of affected families. According to the Opposition, doing away with that requirement will give arbitrary powers to the government to impose acquisition on landowners — primarily farmers — who would have no choice but to accept the compensation and hand over their lands. Even irrigated or cultivable land can now be acquired, with or without the consent of the owner.

Powers of the Collector

A new Section 31A pertains to the payment of a lump sum in lieu of rehabilitation and resettlement costs for projects that are linear in nature, up to 50 per cent of the compensation determined, to the affected family. The Collector can determine the fair compensation and make the award without further enquiry if he is satisfied that all persons interested in the land have consented to the terms and conditions of their free will.

Critics of the Bill have argued that in such a situation, tenants and poor persons who may have non-proprietary rights on the land are likely to lose out. Also, the share of female heirs is often not recorded in rural areas. And persons with right of access, such as among the co-sharers of a Khewat, and usufructuary rights as in a mortgage or easement rights of an owner, are not duly recorded in official records.

Those living on the land

The new provisions in the Bill seek to do away with the condition of 48-hour prior notice to the occupants of an acquired building to evacuate. Occupants would be liable to vacate the building immediately after the Collector announces the award. “This is extremely draconian and arbitrary. The state machinery shall be armed with powers to throw out the belongings of an affected person even at midnight without any notice or redress,” Leader of Opposition and former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda told The Indian Express.

The amendments also do away with the provision to give the evicted people plots of land in addition to monetary compensation.

Government’s position

Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala, who also holds the revenue portfolio, has rejected the apprehensions that acquired lands will eventually go to corporates.

“The Amendments have been made to acquire the land for public sector projects. The ownership of the acquired land shall remain with the government,” he said.

Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said, “There is no reduction in the amount of compensation. It shall continue to be the same as it used to be under the Central Act. The provisions are only aimed at issues concerning consent — whether they (landowners) want to sell their land or not.

“For instance, linear projects such as railways, Metro rail, highways, have their own norms, and for that, land is required. For projects like a school etc, we can change the location, but linear development cannot be altered. Similarly, projects of public importance have been included in the Bill. There should be no problem with this Bill.”

Chautala has also pointed out that Haryana is not the only state to have sought to make the amendments in the Central Act — 16 other states, including Telangana, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra, have done the same. However, in certain states, the law has been challenged and cases are pending in courts.

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