One word can make a world of difference

One word can make a world of difference

Under a bamboo overhang supported on one side by the hut’s roof, two middle-aged men sat in front of a laptop, at a plastic table spread with laminated maps and colourful brochures detailing new building projects.

  • The Bill replaces the world ‘no’ with ‘only’
  • Still confusion continues for its implementation

Under a bamboo overhang supported on one side by the hut’s roof, two middle-aged men sat in front of a laptop, at a plastic table spread with laminated maps and colourful brochures detailing new building projects.

One of the men stood up and introduced himself, handing a person his visiting card—“Mahesh Agarwal. Property adviser.”

Land Acquisition (file photo)
Mahesh works as a real estate broker, a middleman selling completed and under-construction residential properties for a commission claimed to have facilitated about 100 deals since he got into the business in 2011.

This was after the Land Acquisition Bill which was introduced in 2011.

The Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Bill, 2011, is a proposed law that lays down various provisions and directions to be followed while acquiring land anywhere in the country. The term 'land acquisition' means forcible acquisition of land from an unwilling seller and is distinct from a land purchase from a willing seller.

“The new law was prompted by agitations over land being taken away from farmers who claim they have not been compensated properly. The right to fair compensation and transparency in the land acquisition and rehabilitation act 2013 mandates fair compensation, rehabilitation and resettlement of affected families,” says lawyer Praveen from Ghanu and Company. It also allows the landowner to reclaim the property if the state has not been able to determine compensation for it within a period of five years.

The Bill merges the land acquisition law with rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) provisions; the UPA government had earlier proposed two separate bills. The new proposed law replaces over-a-century-old Land Acquisition Act of 1894 which has various shortcomings—it has no resettlement and rehabilitation provisions for those displaced by the land acquisition and provides low rates of compensation to the land owners.

In 2013, the previous Congress-led government introduced a new law. Among other things, to mollify local communities, it asked private companies to obtain consent of 80 per cent of project-affected families.

"This new Act has swung to the other extreme," says Gaurav Jain, a real estate professional of Samyak Properties & Infrastructure. Little land acquisition has happened under the new law, partly because of the economic slowdown and partly because of the law itself.

Debate over land acquisition for ‘public purposes’ has turned into a chasing game for more compensation. There is political competition over which ruling party gives more money as compensation for land. In between we have lost track of the key issues related to land acquisition. This long-standing debate never revolved around compensation alone. To begin with, mostly tribals were the victims of land acquisition. So the debate circled around the socio-cultural impacts of displacement. There were talks of whether to acquire tribal land. Tribals continue to be at the highest risk of eviction as their regions have the largest number of pending depending development programmes. But looking at the present debate, it seems land acquisition per se is no longer contested. Rather, it has been made easier with more monetary compensation. What’s more, there is a pan-India generalisation of the relationship between land and its owners.

The government needs to cross a legal hurdle, the Act never specified if it was applicable in cases where courts had stayed the dispossession of landowners. Would the period for which the stay was granted be counted towards the five years as of January 1, 2014, when the new Act came into force?

Former Solicitor-General Mohan Parasaran gave his opinion on December 28, 2013, stating that the new Act would apply only to cases where no compensation was passed ‘five years or more prior to the first day of January 2014.’ This came as a blow to UPA government as it nullifies the impact of the Act.

Eighteen days later came another clarification that the opinion had a typographical error and the ‘no’ had to be dropped. The new Act would apply ‘only’ to cases where compensation was declared by the state government five years prior to first day of January 2014.

This corrected opinion under pressure was sent by the Attorney-General to the UPA government. This meant farmers could get back their lands in hundreds of cases lying before several high courts.

Mallesh Shetty is a small time farmer in Nizamabad. His land was proposed to be acquired in 1995. He had obtained a stay on the acquisition as it was his ancestral property but the stay was vacated on December 8, 2013. After local journalists read out the “corrected legal opinion” from the site of ministry of rural development, Mallesh now wants to approach the government to reclaim his land as he promised his father that he would safeguard the land and never sell it as it was their ‘Nishani’.

It was not easy to implement the law though “no” was corrected to “only”. The amendment required a green signal from all states. (Reference rural development website)

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