Face of NDA

Diluting Land Acquisition Act 2013

[Following is a slightly shortened version of a memnorandum submitted by several people’s movements of Odisha, to governor Sri S C Jamir, urging him to intervene and stop the ill-motivated design of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the centre to dilute the Land Acquisition Act 2013]

NDA is considering bringing amendments to the Land Acquisition Act in the Winter Session of the Parliament or even an Ordinance to make significant changes to the Act. The new Act has been framed after consulting all the stake holders and over a period of seven years after going through two Parliamentary Standing committees (2007 & 2009), both headed by senior BJP leaders, Shri Kalyan Singh and Smt Sumitra Mahajan.

The new Act—the Right to Fair Compensation, Resettlement and Rehabilitation and Transparancy in Land Acquisition Act 2013—was a response to the Colonial Land Acquisition Act, 1894 which resulted in forcible land acquisition without any resettlement and rehabilitation, drastically affecting not only people who lose their land, but also those who lose their livelihood. These forced land acquisitions led to massive protests in places like Nandigram, Singur, Kalinganagar, Kakrapalli, Bhatta Parsaul, where many people died. For years Narmada Bachao Andolan, Niyamgiri Suraksha Parishad, Anti-SEZ protests in Raigarh, Jhajhar had been demanding a repeal of the colonial act and enactment of a new development planning act marking people's participation and provisions for livelihood based R&R. Finally, the new Act was passed by last Parliament and rules for which had been notified by NDA government in August 2014.

The new Act has not even been fully implemented in earnest by either State or Central government, but a climate is being prepared by them that new Act is an impediment to the developmental needs of the country.

The news that two of the key provisions, 'consent' and 'Social Impact Assessment' of the Right to Fair Compensation, Resettlement and Rehabilitation and Transparency in Land Acquisiton Act, 2013 is to be amended by the NDA government is completely unacceptable to the people's movements. These two provisions are central to addressing the issue of 'forced land acquisition' and 'resulting impoverishment" to the communities.

The farmers, fish workers, labourers, artisans, facing uprootment from not just their socio-cultural environs but also livelihoods, are compelled to get united and raise their voices against unjust displacement.

Non-violent, peaceful and democratic organizations and their alliances are questioning forcible acquisition of land and everything attached to land, including minerals, ground water, as well as habitats, tree cover and common property resources that result in pauperization, more often, without rehabilitation.

It is in this context that the Right to Fair Compensation, Resettlement and Rehabilitation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Act 2013 need to be implemented.

It will be a retrograde step if the nation were to go back to the colonial process of forced land acquisition and no regard for impact of land acquisition on the people, environment and democratic institutions which need to be consulted and their consent taken in the process. If the persons in power are to truly respect the rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution then Parliament must work towards the following :
1.    Let the provision of Consent for the public purpose projects also be made mandatory for the government projects too.
2.   It's necessary to limit the definition of the 'Public Purpose'. Infrastructure doesn't equal development. People have seen how Reliance Industries has been creating infrastructure for nation, they work for profit alone and in the process loot the citizens and arm-twist the government, prime example being Delhi and Mumbai Metro and KG Basin Gas projects.
3.   There must have mandatory Social Impact Assessment provisions for the irrigation projects as well, given the huge displacement, in case of Sardar Sarovar dam the sword of displacement is hanging on 2.5 lakh people even after three decades.
4.   A National resettlement and Rehabilitation Commission to deal with the grievances of 10 crores of people who have sacrificed their land and livelihood in the process of development should be established immediately.

The Parliamentary Committees of the 13th and 14th Lok Sabhas, had given their unanimous report which is self-explanatory. Some of the prominent recommendations included :
1.    No forcible land acquisition for private corporations.
2.   Free prior informed consent of project affected people, not land losers alone, for every kind of project, including government one, contrary to what is there in the current Act, 80% and 70% consent of land losers for private projects and PPP projects respectively. (Even this is not acceptable to NDA government, what a shame!)
3.   No acquisition of agricultural land for any project to be covered under the new Act.
4.   Role of Gram Sabhas, Basti Sabhas in Social Impact Assessment, R&R and in other processes emphasized.
The Proposed amendments to the new Act are against the transparency, accountability and democratic participatory planning of development projects with people whose resources are to become the capital, indispensable. Any such effort by the ruling party must be defeated.

In truth 13 Central Acts which are used for the purpose of land acquisition, need to be brought under the coverage of the new Act by January 2015 and NDA government should work towards that.

In order to ensure that all this happens, the only way forward, is that government implement the 2013 Act and no amendments are made to the ACT.

Vol. 47, No. 25, Dec 28, 2014 -Jan 3, 2015