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Ground beneath their own feet

The passage of the Land Acquisition Bill in Lok Sabha on Thursday is a milestone in the history of the nation, and a welcome development for the landed poor, who have, in the past, suffered tremendous disenfranchisement and displacement in the name of procurement of land for private or public ends. Despite being touted as a potential vote-plank, the bill, championed by the Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, won by a huge majority, with 216 out of 235 MPs voting in favour of the draft legislation.

The bill has also been successfully campaigned for by the union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh, who persuaded the principle opposition BJP to support the bill and replace the century old colonial relic that is the Land Act of 1894. The new bill establishes better rules for compensation against land acquired for infrastructure projects and industry, a move that will raise the cost of land acquisition but would substantially reduce the agitations that had plagued the country in the past, although the protesters, usually agricultural labourers or small farmers, had been robbed or cheated of their legitimate compensation.

The Land Acquisition Bill seeks to redress that gap and provide four times the market value of the land in the rural areas and double the market value in urban in case of acquisition by government for publicly-funded or for private-public partnerships (PPP) in driving infrastructure projects. Moreover, the Land Bill also requires developers to get consent of 80 per cent of people whose land is acquired for private projects and approval from 70 per cent of landowners in case it is a PPP. Clearly, once passed in Rajya Sabha, which looks set to happen without much of a hiccup, the Land Act 2013 would heal many an open wound and hopefully would prevent future mishaps from happening, if it is implemented properly.

Although the corporate sector has voiced concern that the cost of land acquisition will go up by almost four times in rural areas and would double in urban regions, it is a small price to pay to acquire the land tracts without seeing bouts of violence and protests. Since the land purchase cost is only a tiny fraction of the entire infrastructure building budget that the companies have at their disposal, it is certainly not an anti-investment law, as it has been made out to be by some elements from the business sector. Moreover, the landowners would at least have some savings to start from or invest in, once their lands are taken away from them, since inadequate compensation has been at the base of several agitations, such as in Singur and Nandigram, and even in the states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.

Hence the allegation that the slightly escalated land acquisition cost would make financial projects unviable is absolutely baseless and a fabrication spread by the corporate lobbyists to keep the profit-making levels high. The ground reality remains that the losses incurred in the aftermath of protests result in making the projects unviable, such as in the case of Singur and Nandigram in West Bengal, from where the Tata Nano factory was compelled to move to Gujarat. Moreover, with the economy now slowing down, the Land Acquisition Bill should be seen as not a populist gesture but as a boon to both the corporate sector and the poorer but landed sections, since makes process of acquisition much smoother, thus, helping the country become more investment-friendly without allowing exploitation of the poorer classes.         

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