UNDER fire from opposition, the government has relented, but only a bit, on the land acquisition bill and decided to drop an amendment that allowed it to acquire land for private hospitals and private educational institutions. While nine amendments have been made in the bill that replaces the ordinance, no concessions have been made on the consent and social impact assessment (SIA) clauses — the main demand of the opposition parties.
The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 had called for mandatory SIA and consent of 80 per cent of affected families in land acquisition for private companies and 70 per cent of affected families in land acquisition for public-private partnership projects. The process of obtaining consent was to be carried out along with the SIA study. The NDA government’s ordinance, however, had expanded the list of projects exempted from these two requirements to include five new broad categories, a move slammed by the opposition.
A string of smaller concessions have, however, been made by the NDA government.
* The latest amendment to the bill allows for land acquisition only for industrial corridors set up by the government and its undertakings. The ordinance had left it open-ended suggesting that land could be acquired by the government even for industrial corridors promoted or developed by the private sector.
Further, it has now sought to restrict the land being acquired for industrial corridors by specifying that it cannot be more than one kilometre on both sides of the designated railway line or road.
* Interestingly, the government has sought to omit “social infrastructure” projects from the exempted category of projects introduced by the ordinance. Significantly, reverting to the 2013 Act in this respect, the government has deleted the amendment brought in by the ordinance relating to private schools and hospitals. The ordinance had expanded the scope of infrastructure to include private hospitals and educational institutions.
* Another key change the government has brought about relates to providing compulsory employment to one member of the affected farm labourer. Effectively, this means the affected family will not only be eligible for rehabilitation and resettlement benefits, but also employment.
* Another amendment allows courts to take cognizance of an offence if committed by a government employee. The ordinance had said no court shall take cognizance of an offence except with previous sanction of the government, easing the burden on defaulting civil servants.
* To ensure that an affected person is not inconvenienced, an amendment has now been proposed so that the authority holds the hearing relating to complaints on compensation in the district where the land is acquired.
* Other amendments include inserting a provision that the government will first try to determine if the land is the bare minimum required for the project in question, and that the government will undertake a survey of wastelands and maintain a record of such land.
The ordinance had amended the retrospective clause of the 2013 legislation by excluding the period spent on litigation from the applicability of the retrospective clause. The latest amendments do not change this, and make only a minor change to this clause to issue a slight clarification.
Further, the ordinance’s move to relax the period of time after which a piece of unutilised acquired land must be returned to its original owner has been retained. While the original law said if acquired land is not utilised after five years, it should be returned, the ordinance had amended the provision from a “period of five years” to a “period specified for setting up of any project or for five years, whichever is later”.