Millennium Post

Done in word, now do it in spirit

The Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is showing sure signs of overcoming policy paralysis which had gripped it for the past three-and-a-half years. The union cabinet on Thursday approved the Land Acquisition Bill clearing the decks for its reintroduction in Parliament next week. The new bill, when passed by Parliament, will replace the colonial-era Land Acquisition Act, 1894. The bill was first introduced in Parliament last year in midst of nation-wide farmers’ agitation from West Bengal to Uttar Pradesh protesting agricultural land acquisitions for infrastructural projects.

On introduction, the bill was sent to a standing committee for evaluation. Thereafter the bill underwent threadbare discussion under the aegis of a Group of Ministers headed by Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and also in the cabinet where the infrastructure ministries objected to the provisions of the bill heavily tilted in favour of the landholder making investment difficult. Congress president Sonia Gandhi is said to have favoured the position of strengthening the landholders.

The final version of the bill may have slightly diluted the line pushed by the Congress president but it has still managed to keep the provisions such that it strengthens the position of the landholders vis-a-vis the existing British-era law.

The bill provides for insulating the farmers from the bullying tactics of the private developers as its provisions now require the consent of 80 per cent of the landholders before acquisition of land for the projects which fall in category other than that of public-private partnership (PPP).  However, for the PPP projects consent of only 70 per cent of land owners will be required. This new bill for the first time introduces the concept of rehabilitation and resettlement of displaced landholders on a mandatory basis. A provision for the return of unutilised land has also been made. Having given the landholder-friendly bill, the real challenge before the government would be to apply the words of the bill in spirit too. The bill has been received with circumspection by the real estate sector as industry bodies like CREDAI and NARDECO have expressed unhappiness and signalled that it had the potential to escalate land cost and housing prices. However, the market sentiments on Friday, after the news of the bill being approved broke, reflected to the contrary. The passage of the bill would see launch of fresh infrastructure projects. During this period, when the new projects are planned and lauched, the government will have to exercise caution that the lure of investment does not mar the spirit of the present bill.
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