Land Bill creates safeguards for farmers

The Narendra Modi-led government is fighting a perception battle on the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Bill. The Opposition led by Congress and regional parties like Trinamool Congress, Janata Dal (United), along with several others have started a disinformation campaign. Incidentally these parties, which did nothing to implement the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency provided for in the 2013 act in the States ruled by them, are now opposing the current Bill, since they feel it would open new vistas of development under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

To create the right perception, it’s important to know that this Bill, contrary to claims by Opposition parties, is most beneficial for the farmer. In this context the first question which arises is -- why land acquisitions? It’s true that agriculture has been the main profession for our masses. With time, however, the pressure on land has increased as previous governments failed to create adequate diversion and alternative avenues of employment. This has forced the farmer to survive at mere subsistence levels. The only way to improve productivity is by higher investment, but this cannot be done on small tracts of land.

Moreover, new jobs cannot be created outside agriculture unless investments in industry and infrastructure are speeded up. The answer to farm distress is to get more people out of farming, and this calls for a more flexible land acquisition act, not a rigid one. At the same time, however, such an act should have enough safeguards to protect the interest of farmers. The Bill put forward by the National Democratic Alliance-led (NDA) government takes care of this aspect.

For example clauses surrounding Social Impact Assessment (SIA) and 70 per cent consent, about whose alteration the Opposition is raising such a hue and cry, actually benefits big land holders and not marginal farmers. Big landlords acquire land from small farmers, aggregate (hoard) it, and wait for the government to acquire land for infrastructure or other projects. At the time of acquisition these land hoarders quote inflated prices. When the government objects, they use the blackmail of consent clause. Consider how much of tax-payer’s money is lost due to this blackmail. This is not to say that SIA is unimportant, but the only sensible way to calculate it is by looking at it from an economic viewpoint, not the social lens, which is more of a tool used for political gains.

Coming to the present Bill, there is an absolute falsehood which is being spread about it. This Bill makes no provision to acquire land for private enterprise, including those for private hospitals and educational institutions. Private hospitals and private educational institutions are not included within the definition public purpose. The Bill also provides for acquisition of only bare minimum land as notified by the government for a project. The opposition-led propaganda states the contrary.

Again, the Bill allows the government to make exemptions for SIA and 70 per cent consent only for few categories of projects -- (i) defence, (ii) rural infrastructure, (iii) affordable housing and (iv) industrial corridors. Although these would be projects of public interest and national security, there would be no compromise, as per the provisions of the Bill, on the compensation and rehabilitation packages for the land acquired under these projects.

Another false hood being bandied about is about industrial corridors. It’s being said that this provision would help the corporates whereas the truth is that land will be acquired only for industrial corridors, which would be set up by the government and government-led undertakings. Further, land can be acquired only up to 1 km on both sides of the designated railway line or road of the industrial corridor. Under the Bill, compulsory employment has been assured to at least one member of an ‘affected family of a farm labourer’. This is the first law which compensates not just the farmland owner but also his/her dependents. The new Bill provides that displacement would take place only after the full compensation has been paid to a ‘designated account’. Moreover, whether to acquire farmlands for the purpose of development would be up to the discretion of State governments. The new Bill provides for a survey of wasteland, which could be acquired for development purposes. How is any of this anti farmer?

It’s also important that we know why the need arose to bring LARR to replace the land acquisition act brought by the Congress-led government. The previous act was for exempting only irrigation projects from SIA, but not the other projects like defence, housing for the poor, rural infrastructure and industrial corridors. The truth is that irrigation projects (including dams) have caused more negative social impact since independence than industrial projects combined. So to say irrigation can be exempt, but not roads or factories, is surprising. Therefore to keep the nation secure and on path of development, this was necessary.

No infrastructure or industrial project will be viable if it is going to take four or five years to acquire land. The NDA-led government has to deliver on the promises it has made to people. The Centre cannot allow its progress to be deflated by a devious Opposition. The provisions of LARR are not only oriented towards development but it also safeguards the interest of the farmer.

(The writer is chairman, Education Committee, South MCD and general secretary, Delhi BJP)
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