In a marked departure from the Congress’s aggressive stance on the land Bill, its government in Karnataka has sought lowering of the percentage of land owners whose consent is needed for land acquisition for public-private partnership (PPP) projects from 70 per cent to 50. It has also asked for exemption of social impact assessment (SIA) for projects for public purposes for a limited scale of acquisition.
“The Social Impact Assessment requirement may be exempted for land required for public purpose like water supply, road works, housing, rural infrastructure, including electrification etc to an extent of 100 acres, to expedite acquisition for such purposes,” the Karnataka government has said in its submission to the Joint Committee on the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Second Amendment) Bill, 2015.
The panel met Monday to take evidence of the representatives of the Karnataka state government and the Ministry of Urban Development, Government of Delhi and Delhi Development Authority (DDA).
In another submission, the Karnataka government said that the legal requirement for obtaining 70 per cent “consent of land owners and interested persons” for PPP projects in the infrastructure sector is “practically difficult to implement” and is likely to “delay acquisition of the land” for the projects. “This may be reduced to 50 percent,” the state government has said.
These submissions were made when the Karnataka government was asked by the panel to share its experience and challenges related to land acquisition.
When the Bill was brought by Modi government in 2015, Congress had launched a massive protest, backed by all Opposition parties, against the Centre bringing changes in the consent and SIA clauses of 2013 land Bill enacted by the UPA government.
According to the 2013 Act, consent of 80 per cent of land owners had to be obtained when land was acquired for private projects and 70 per cent for public-private partnership projects.
The NDA Bill exempted five categories of projects from this consent provision of the 2013 Act. The categories were defence, rural infrastructure, affordable housing, industrial corridors set up by the government and government undertakings, up to 1 km on either side of the road and railway, and infrastructure projects. The NDA Bill also allowed exemption of these five categories of projects from the SIA requirement.
However, under the Opposition’s pressure, the government had to backtrack and BJP members in the land committee — earlier headed by S S Ahluwalia — moved amendments to restore these provisions. The change of stand by the Modi government on the land bill had happened ahead of Bihar Assembly polls in 2015 and amid pressure from the Opposition as well as from some affiliates of the RSS.
Even at that time the NDA government had claimed that many of the Opposition governments in states including some Congress-ruled had earlier complained against tough provisions of the 2013 land bill and cited the SIA as the single biggest roadblock to land acquisition but later backtracked under the pressure of its central leadership.
The 2015 Bill had also sought to change the period after which unutilised acquired land must be returned. While the 2013 Act stated that if land acquired under the law remained unutilised for five years, it must be returned to the original owners or the land bank. The NDA Bill changed this to state that the period after which unutilised land will need to be returned will be the later of: five years, or any period specified at the time of setting up the project.
The Congress and other opposition parties had opposed this change as well.
On this, the Karnataka state government has submitted that the amendment, which will substitute “the period of five years” for return of unutilised land by “a period specified for setting up any project or five years, whichever is later” under section 101, is a “welcome move”, especially where the gestation period for projects is longer.”
Meanwhile, sources in the panel said that members from different parties in the committee suggested in today’s meeting that all states should be called before the panel and asked about their experiences with the 2013 land law and its “lacunae”.