Taking a major step back on amendments to the land bill, the government proposes to bring back the consent and Social Impact Assessment (SIA) clauses and drop its contentious move to exempt five broad categories of projects from these provisions.
These form part of a cabinet note which also has no proposal to let states frame their own land acquisition laws, a demand made by several non-Congress chief ministers at the July 15 meeting of the governing council of the NITI Aayog.
Prepared by the Ministry of Rural Development’s Department of Land Resources, the note dated July 20 signals an understanding within the government that unless the contentious clauses introduced in the 2013 Act through the land ordinance are done away with, passage of even minor amendments will be a problem.
The note seeking “approval of the cabinet for revising the stand of the government of India regarding the amendments to the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Second Bill, 2015” was on the agenda when the cabinet met on July 21.
Sources said there was a “very short discussion on the cabinet note and no final decision was taken since the matter is pending with a parliamentary panel, and would send a wrong signal if the government interfered at this stage”.
“It was felt that we should wait for the parliamentary committee to submit its report and only then take any decision with regard to watering down the ordinance. Anyway, the government has the power to introduce official amendments at any stage before passage of the bill,” sources said.
The 2013 UPA legislation had called for a mandatory SIA, besides consent of 80 per cent of affected families in respect of land being acquired for private companies and consent of 70 per cent of affected families in respect of land being acquired for public-private partnership projects. The process of obtaining consent was to be carried out along with the SIA study.
In its ordinance and subsequent bill, the government had amended Section 10 (A) to include five new categories of projects on which requirement for consent and SIA would not apply.
The five projects exempted included projects for defence and defence production, rural infrastructure including rural electrification, affordable housing and housing for the poor, industrial corridors as well as infrastructure projects, including public private partnership projects wherein the ownership continues to vest with the government.
The government also proposes to drop an amendment which involved replacing the term “private company” with “private entity”, which meant that while earlier acquisitions for private purposes was limited to private companies registered under the Companies Act, they could now be extended to any private entity.
The clause relating to the period of time after which a piece of unutilised acquired land must be returned to its original owner is also proposed to be left out.
While the original law said if acquired land is not utilised after five years, it should be returned, the ordinance had amended the provision (Section 101) from a “period of five years” to a “period specified for setting up of any project or for five years, whichever is later”.
Besides retaining some clauses in its March 2015 bill that made technical changes to the 2013 legislation, and the decision to include the 13 excluded legislation in the new Act, the government proposes to retain a key change made to the retrospective cause.
The ordinance had sought to amend the retrospective clause of the 2013 legislation by excluding the period spent on litigation from the applicability of the retrospective clause. It basically amended Section 24 (2) to exclude time spent under litigation where a stay order has been passed.
The original 2013 Act stipulated that the retrospective clause would apply in cases where land was acquired five years or more before commencement of the new Act but no compensation had been paid or possession had not been taken, even if the delay included the litigation period.
The ordinance also changed the definition of ‘compensation paid’ from an amount deposited in the court (as defined by the Supreme Court) to any amount paid into any account maintained for the purpose.
The government also proposes to drop another amendment that eased the burden on defaulting civil servants. The ordinance and subsequent bill had said that they could be prosecuted only after taking sanction from the government in line with Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, as against the original Act which provided for provisions to penalise them in case of violations.
The government also plans to retain its amendment of Section 113 under which the power with the state to remove difficulties, which may arise in giving effect to provisions of the Act, can only be exercised after a period of five years from the commencement of the Act, as opposed to a shorter period of two years under the 2013 Act.