The eight-member committee formed by the Bharatiya Janata Party to seek farmers’ suggestions on the contentious Land Acquisition Bill has submitted a report to party president Amit Shah, mentioning that the “consent clause from farmers” should be made mandatory before acquiring land. This would be a wise move for BJP, both politically and policy wise. There are many valid reasons as to why the consent clause is important.
The original act passed by the erstwhile Congress-led government had stated any project would require the consent of at least 80% of land owners if the land is acquired for private projects and consent of at least 70% of land owners if acquired for Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects. The BJP-led government had announced in the ordinance that five new categories of projects are exempted from the consent clause. These included: Defence, Rural infrastructure including rural electrification projects, Affordable Housing, Industrial Corridors and Infrastructure and Social Infrastructure projects, including PPP projects where the Central Government owns the land.
The original clause itself was inadequate since it excluded land acquired by public sector companies, but at least covered the PPP and private sector projects, which constitute a substantial share in total land acquired in India annually. However, this change in the ordinance has repealed the original act almost completely. Along with the 13 salient points mentioned in the original Act for which land acquisition does not require public consent, these five categories add up to about 98% of the total land acquired in India.
In other words, the original Act has been more or less repealed and has become practically useless through the amendments introduced in the ordinance, as far as the consent clause is concerned. Consent was an important feature of the original Act. After all, if development was for public benefit, shouldn’t land being acquired for public benefit be acquired through public consent? At least this was the claim of supporters of the bill. This was also in line with the spirit of democracy, where people would determine if they wanted projects to be built up or not. In fact, a major problem with the previous Land Acquisition Act of 1894 was that no consent of land owners or other dependents on the land was required for acquisition of land.
By bringing the ordinance, the government literally repealed the democratic nature of land acquisition as was sought to be established through public consent. Reintroducing the consent clause would go a long way in restoring the democracy-friendly features of the land acquisition law.