No national interest in tweaking land act
Looks like the new dispensation’s urge to leave the strings of the economy in private hands has overshot the threshold. After a budget that found fiscal and political consolidation in announcing a slew of Rs 100-crore projects with the intention of turning them into public private partnerships, the government has now indicated that it wants to scrap the consent clause in the Land Acquisition Act, one of handful of worthwhile achievements of the former UPA regime. Not only does the Modi-led NDA government want to propose outrageous and resolutely anti-poor ideas like dropping the crucial consent clause to acquire citizen-owned land for PPP projects with heavy industry tilt, the Rural Development Ministry is pushing to dilute the very scale and safety nets within the Land Act, which would give a free hand to coercive corporate acquisitions. It is extremely unfortunate that the Nitin Gadkari-led ministry is going after the delicate and very bulwark of the Land Act, the consent clause, which is only guarantee of a dialogue and negotiation becoming the basis of such land transfers, instead of corporate profiteering hiding behind a flimsy veil of PPP models. More often than not, PPP projects end up becoming cases of nefarious corporate self-aggrandisement, as the Jindals and others have done years, snatching land from tribals in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, much to the chagrin of the disenfranchised locals. The primary thrust of the Land Act is the legal emphasis and firewall of ‘right to fair compensation and transparency’, as well as ‘rehabilitation and resettlement’, which are the pivot on which the entire edifice of social justice through fair distribution and reimbursement in cases of land transfers stands. Hence, diluting or tweaking this significant aspect of the law would be tantamount to pretty much dissolving the law itself, since it would denuded of all its teeth.
Hence, the ministry’s idea of social impact assessment is really bereft of a pro-people and pro-farmer vision, and is instead a rampantly pro-corporate move that is bound to backfire in no time. Such appraisals are likely to take into account only the views of India Inc which is waiting with baited breath to get the law, that it bitterly contested when it was being tabled, debated and passed in Parliament, suitably defanged. While the ministry’s contention, that identifying land owners in remote heartlands of the country would be a rather difficult task, that is hardly a reason for doing away with the very central premise of the social justice and human rights argument – seeking consent. Moreover, acquiring arable and fertile land for industry and development purposes is likely to boomerang, sow seeds of deep unrest and spark civil mutiny among the agriculturalists of the country. In addition, tinkering with the carefully thought-out Land Act would give a long rope to the profit sharks within the builders’ lobby as well.