Ruling Class, Semi-feudal

Land Acquisition Ordinance is anti farmer – Bhalachandra

In contrast to its promise of bringing “Good Days” for the people, the Modi Govt has once again declared a war against the common people of the country, the farmers. The recently promulgated Land Acquisition Ordinance by the Central Govt. is not only against political morality and parliamentary propriety but also a sinister attack on the rights of the peasants including tribals and also on the national interests. By bringing this ordinance Modi Govt. has only tried to carry out the most important part of the agenda of the foreign and Indian corporate that were instrumental in bringing his Govt. to power.
The Ordinance which is meant to amend the Land Acquisition Act, does not merely expand the list of projects that would be exempted from requirements of consent and Social Impact Assessment but also quietly makes other provisions in the law less stringent. Apart from diluting the definition of ‘public purpose’ and ‘private company’ it also dilutes the requirement that unused acquired land be returned to the original owners, makes it tougher to prosecute defaulting civil servants, reduces the scope of the retrospective clause and expands the definition of permissible infrastructure.
The present law, ‘The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act’ was enacted by the UPA Govt in 2013. Barring TMC all political parties including BJP had unanimously supported it in the parliament. But it was not enacted due to the mercy of any political party or Govt. Rather the countrywide peasants’ uprising against forcible displacement and attack on their land and means of livelihood has forced the rulers to do that. It is well known that during the last one decade or little more militant people’s movement against this development induced displacement erupted in different parts of the country. Kalinganagar, Dhinkia (Anti-Posco), Niyamgiri, Singur, Nandigram, Raigarh, Kakrapally, Dadri, Karchana, Bhatta Parsaul, Gangavaram and several others have become symbols of resistance against forcible land acquisition and ‘No to displacement’ became the popular slogan of all anti displacement movements. Taking lessons from the bitter experiences of displaced people of different projects, everywhere people had challenged both the central and various state govts’ handing over their land to foreign and Indian corporate. They gave supreme sacrifice by giving their lives but refused to give their land and resources. These struggles forced the rulers to bring changes in the British made colonial Land Acquisition Act of 1894 onto the agenda and the new law was enacted replacing the old one. Though UPA Govt. did not accede to the demand of no forcible displacement, it was forced to make certain changes to address some of the defects of the earlier law.
The new Act was framed after consulting all the stake holders in the conflict over a period of seven years. The suggestions of Parliamentary Standing committees of 2007 and 2009 headed by two senior BJP leaders like Kalyan Singh and Sumitra Mahajan were taken into account. But unfortunately Modi led BJP Govt., in its effort to appease the corporate, has made a U turn and has annulled whatever pro-people provisions are there in the 2013 act by bringing this anti people ordinance. It is the height of political immorality that the same BJP which was part of consensus among ruling class parties for enactment has, after coming to power, gone back on its earlier stance thereby defrauding the people. Since coming to power, Modi Govt. has been on a spree of diluting the environmental provisions in sanctioning projects. And now it has launched a frontal attack on the people by snatching away their hard earned rights. Promulgation of this Ordinance as soon as the Parliament session concluded proves that the Govt. has no respect for even parliament in its moves to serve the interests of both foreign and Indian corporate. Even the 2013 Act had not got a fair chance of implementation so far. Most of the states still have not framed Rules necessary for its implementation. So how has it been found to be impractical without even a trial?
The first change is the substitution of the word ‘private entity’ to ‘private company’ in the Ordinance, which means that while earlier acquisitions for private purposes were limited to private companies registered under the Companies Act, it can now be extended to any private entity. While the term ‘private company’ carries some responsibility and these are registered under the Companies Act, ‘private entity’ has multiple meanings. Even religious institutions, NGO establishments and many others can come under this private entity which may have no responsibility to the public or the Govt. Similarly the ordinance has excluded ‘private hospitals, private educational institutions from ‘private purpose’ and categorized them in public purpose. The Section 2 (I) (b) (i) of the 2013 Act reads as under: “All activities or items listed in the notification of the Government of India in the department of economic affairs (Infrastructure Section) number 13/6/2009 INF, dated the 27th March, 2012, excluding private hospitals, private educational institutions and private hotels:” But in the Ordinance it is said that words like “Private hospitals, private educational institutions and” shall be omitted. This means that the land under public purposes can be acquired by the Government for private hospitals and private educational institutions being set up for profiteering. This means land acquisition for private corporate hospitals and private educational institutions like the proposed Vedanta University at Puri (10,000 acres) henceforth will not require consent from the affected people.
Crucially, the original law gave the government the power to take any action necessary to implement the law for two years after its passage, which has been extended to five years by the Ordinance, thus increasing the period available with the government to remove difficulties in implementing the Act.
The second change relates to the determination of opinion of affected people. The Section 2 (2) (b) (i) provided that for land acquisition for private companies, the prior consent of at least 80 per cent of those affected families would be necessary. For public-private partnership projects, under Section 2 (2) (b) (ii), the prior consent of at least 70 per cent of those affected families shall be sought through a prescribed process. In the Ordinance, these provisions have been exempted.
The third change relates to the determination of social impact and public purpose. Chapter II of the Act makes it mandatory that for land acquisition for public purpose that the government “Shall consult the local Panchayat or Municipal Corporation as the case may be and carry out Social Impact Assessment Study in consultation with them”. The notification for consultation and social impact assessment shall be made available in local language to the Panchayat, Municipality or Municipal Corporation. But on the contrary, the Ordinance states that these provisions will not apply for five broad categories of projects. Thus the Ordinance does away with the Social Impact Assessment and right of consent of the people to be displaced which were central to the 2013 Act. The Government’s amendment would mean that now social impact assessment, food security assessment and consent of 80% (in case of private companies) and 70% (in case of PPP projects) of land owners will not be required before acquiring land for projects like defence, industrial corridors, rural infrastructure, affordable housing and any infrastructure including social infrastructure in PPP mode. While the exemption of industrial corridor projects will bring large scale devastation to the famers, the exemption of housing projects will bring menace of real estate along with it. This will only increase the conflict in the rural hinterland of our country because large scale forcible land acquisition for industrial corridors will be a norm. How big will be the resulting displacement and devastation can be imagined through the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor project where alone 3.9 lakh hectares of agricultural land is going be acquired. It is a known fact that Industrial Corridors, big infrastructure projects, real estate and dams cause the maximum displacement and environmental damage and the 2013 Act was primarily enacted to address situations arising out of that.
The dilution of the need for consent and for conducting of the Social Impact Assessment for all the projects is completely uncalled for and will only make matters worse. These two provisions are central to addressing the issue of ‘forced land acquisition’ and ‘resulting impoverishment’ of the rural communities. In the 2013 Act, the SIA has provided legal safeguards for Gram Sabha representation; to ensure ‘public purpose’, to estimate affected families, land & properties, costs and alternative measures; to ensure ‘absolutely bare minimum’ acquisition; that there is no other alternative available land; social impact and livelihood loss, etc. But through the Ordinance, in one stroke all these safeguards were thrown out. Even the Environment Impact Assessment will effectively go as it is to be done in parallel with the SIA. Effectively this is a reversion to the Colonial 1894 law which gave little right to the evicted. The fourth change relates to special provision to safeguard food security of the country. Chapter III of the Act Section 10 (I) states that “no irrigated multi-cropped land shall be acquired under this Act”. The amendment in the Act through Ordinance states that the Government may, in public interest, by notification exempt the acquisition of irrigated multi-cropped land for various public purposes or for industrial corridors and infrastructure development including under public private partnership. In the backdrop of the rising population and declining food production in our country there has been a continuous demand from different quarters against acquiring farm land for industries and other projects. In the last four decades the country’s agricultural land has reduced drastically by 18.5%. While the per capita farm land was 2.63 hectare in 1960-61 it has reduced to just 0.8 hectares by 2008. Although the 2013 act has not completely prohibited the acquisition of farmland but it has kept some restrictions regarding the acquisition of multi crop land. But this Ordinance has done away with the provision against acquiring irrigated multi-crop land thereby further endangering the food security of the country along with the livelihood of our peasants.
It has also reduced the number of beneficiaries to be compensated in any project by restricting it to land owners only. Since, other than the land owners, the livelihood of many sections of the rural people like agricultural labourers and share croppers depends on land and they all get affected once that land is acquired for any project so keeping the plight of these sections of people the 2013 Act has a provision to include these people in the affected list along with the land owners in the process of SIA. But the Ordinance has excluded these people from getting any compensation for their possible loss of livelihood.
The fifth change relates to return of unutilised land. The Act under Section 101 provided that “When any land acquired under this Act remains unutilised for a period of five years from the date of taking over the possession, the same shall be returned to the original owner or owners or their legal heirs”. But in the Ordinance, it has been substituted by “a period specified for setting of any project or for five years, whichever is later”. The ordinance relaxes the period of time after which a piece of unutilised acquired land must be returned to its original owner by amending Section 101.
In another change that would narrow down the scope of the retrospective clause and thus, reduce the number of beneficiaries, the ordinance says the clause will not apply in case the delay is caused due to any stay or injunction by court. The original Act says the retrospective clause will apply in cases where the land was acquired five years or more before the commencement of the new Act but no compensation has been paid or possession has not been taken, even if the acquisition got stuck due to litigation. The ordinance, however, amends Section 24 (2) in a way that time spent under litigation will not be included in calculating the five-year period if a stay order had been passed leading to the acquisition being held up.
The ordinance also changes 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 sixth change relates to the liability of the government officials committing offence under this Act. In the Act, Section 87, it was provided that (i) “Wherever an offence under this Act has been committed by any department of the Government, the head of the department shall be deemed guilty of the offence and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly”. Section 87(ii) states that “Where any offence under this Act has been committed by a Department of the Government and it is proved that the offence has been committed with the consent or connivance of, or is attributable to any neglect on the part of any officer, other than the head of the department, such officer shall also be deemed to be guilty of that offence and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly”. This has been substituted by “Where an offence under this Act has been committed by any person who is or was employed in the Central Government or the state Government, as the case may be, at the time of commission of such alleged offence, no court shall take cognisance of such an offence except with the previous sanction of the appropriate Government”. Thus the Ordinance protects the officials who commit offence in land acquisition in connivance with the corporate house and ruling politicians also can be protected by not giving prior sanction by the Government to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.
In another change that would narrow down the scope of the retrospective clause and thus, reduce the number of beneficiaries, the Ordinance says the clause will not apply in case the delay is caused due to any stay or injunction by the Court. The original Act says the retrospective clause will apply in cases where the land was acquired five years or more before the commencement of the new Act but no compensation has been paid or possession has not been taken, even if the acquisition got stuck due to litigation. The Ordinance, however, amends Section 24 (2) in a way that time spent under litigation will not be included in calculating the five-year period if a stay order had been passed leading to the acquisition being held up.
The ordinance also changes 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.
Like the previous UPA Govts, the Modi led BJP Govt. too has used stale cover ups like ‘raising confidence of investors’, ‘industrial growth’, ‘job provision’, ‘compensation of 4 times the rate’ to push through this draconian Ordinance. But all previous acquisitions prove that more jobs of the rural poor are lost than created through this so called highly mechanized and capital intensive industrialization. While farmers are cheated, the real gainers are the companies who get vast land at a throwaway price along with mineral resources like coal, iron ore, bauxite etc at a cheaper rate in the name of industrialization.
If at all land is really needed for development of any manufacturing industry ample barren land and land of closed industries is available in the country. The latest CAG Report on the SEZs of our country found that more than half of the total land acquired for SEZs remains unused. In many places it is seen that the actual quantity of land acquired for a project was manifold the initial requirements, reflecting land grabbing by big business enterprises. But the Govt’s aim is not only to provide huge agricultural land to the corporate but to snatch the land of tribals and farmers, displace and ruin them to force them into cheap labour and help the profit growth of MNCs. These are also the announcements Mr. Modi has made in US and Australia to attract foreign capital. For this he is ready to further destroy the agrarian economy, turn peasants destitute and ‘develop’ India into a food crisis ridden state.
The main aim of the Ordinance is to give total access of the huge mineral resources and agricultural land of the country to the corporate sharks and building mafias to get them windfall profit. Big corporate houses, foreign investors and middlemen will be the main beneficiaries of this ordinance. They only will prosper, while the peasants and landless workers will lose even their habitat and livelihood. Thus for all practical purposes, we are back to the draconian 1894 Act which peoples movements had fought to change. Modi Govt.’s so called motto of “Make in India” is a camouflage while the real motto is “Sell off India”. Industrial corridors being planned by Modi Govt. and some state govts. are in the interest of foreign and Indian corporate, for exploitation of natural resources of India, for the construction Mafia and not for industrial development of the country. This Ordinance can only bring ‘good days’ for them at the cost of crores of peasants and common people of this country.

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