While they can

Opposition parties must challenge the backward-looking assumptions of the land bill.

Written by The Indian Express | Published: September 4, 2013 12:02:26 am

Opposition parties must challenge the backward-looking assumptions of the land bill.

The food security bill is a whisker away from being signed into law,with near unanimous political support. Though it was debated at length,most of the amendments suggested by opposition parties sought an even more bloated and fiscally irresponsible version of the bill. Recent tweaks to the land bill,on the other hand,hold out hope that some give and take is still possible between the government and the main opposition party towards improving the bill,even at this stage. For instance,the government has reportedly agreed to remove a clause that required both monetary compensation and new land for families whose land is acquired for irrigation projects. These will also be exempted from the retrospective clause meant to “correct historical injustices”. These changes have apparently been brought in at the request of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. While they are small concessions in a law that still threatens to encumber industrial and urban projects with years of negotiation and permission-seeking,more significant changes could still be wrested.

The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition,Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill,2012,as the name implies,places all its emphasis on seeming to protect those who are parting with land,as if such transactions are inherently coercive. Instead of incentivising the shift of land from farming to more productive uses,it requires those who start projects to jump through many more hoops,including a social impact assessment committee,whose findings will go to an expert group. While it makes sense for industry to factor in a reasonable cost for land while planning projects,there are unnecessary curbs on the acquisition of irrigated,multi-cropped land. Of course,there are several exemptions,including sectors like mining,railways,metro,highways,atomic energy,petroleum pipelines,though the rules of compensation and rehabilitation apply to these projects as well. The bill has been diluted in some ways,in response to protest — for instance,state governments can also now choose the threshold beyond which R&R obligations kick in for private purchases.

Overall,the land bill rests on a set of debatable assumptions about the nature of farmers’ attachment to land,and the disruptive effect of industrialisation and urbanisation. So far,no political party has challenged those assumptions. As a party invested in the economic reform agenda and aware of how crucial land availability for manufacturing,infrastructure and housing is to growth prospects,the BJP still has the opportunity to intervene in a more decisive manner,to revise aspects of this backward-looking bill.

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