Saturday, 9 July 2011

Land Acquisition


WHAT:  Land acquisition refers to acquisitions either by the government or private individuals on a large-scale for- ‘public purpose’, industrial use, SEZs, building residential complexes etc. It is in news because of protests by land-owners regarding coerced acquisition and/or unfair compensation.

HOW: Land acquisition is governed by the Land Acquistion Act 1894.  Some details of this act are:
(a)  Provides for acquisition of land for ‘public purpose’. Public purpose is defined as provision of land for- development of villages; for rural and town-planning; for state-owned corporations; for development schemes (housing, education, slum clearance etc). [Importantly public purpose does not include acquiring land for companies (as defined in the Companies Act)].
(b)  Preliminary notification by district administration of land to be acquired. Review of said land.
(c)  Hearing of objections to the proposed land acquisition. However herein the decision of the appropriate govt on the objections would be final.
(d)  Declaration of intention of acquisition-whether for public purpose or for a Company.
(e)  Notifying the land to be acquired, inviting claims and deciding upon those claims and awarding compensation (atleast pay 80% of compensation before taking possession under normal circumstances). After doing this the Collector make take possession of the land and such land thereafter vests with the govt without any encumbrances. Possession can also be taken in emergency (ie. Within 15 days of notification and before any compensation is awarded) if land is required for public purpose only. [Note that if the objections to land acquisition are over-ridden then no one can stop the govt from taking possession of the land].
(f)   Objections to the award or non-acceptance of the same,     may be placed before a Court for adjudication.
(g)  Land Acquisition by govt for companies can be undertaken provided some criteria are met- purpose of land for company to meet criteria laid down in the act; compensation that company will pay to govt for land acquisition; transfer of land upon payment; completion of proposed work on land by the company in a agreed time-frame.

Some concepts that are used in this respect are:

Eminent domain: The right of the state or its agent to expropriate private property for public use, with payment of compensation. The individual property owner’s consent to the taking is immaterial. It is usually used to obtain real property that cannot be purchased from owners in a voluntary transaction.
            This principle is visible in the Land Acqusition Act 1894 where though objections to acquisition can be filed, but the decision of the govt is final. And once compensation has been awarded and accepted by the owner, no one can stop the govt from taking possession.
            This can be in the nature of forced acquisition. However such acquisitions are meeting with resistance, when land has been acquired for public purpose (Sardar Sarovar Project, Narmada) and for private companies (TATA-Nano, POSCO, Vedanta etc). In the face of increased protests the GOI is contemplating over an amendment to the Act; and various state govts have released new land acquisition policies.

Acquisition by voluntary consent: One of the recurring feature of the new policies is the idea of voluntary consent to land acquisition; Just Compensation at market prices; State to act as facilitator and not to directly acquire land for private companies etc. 
Presently the GOI is considering an amendment to the Land Acquisition Act and the National Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill. There are many views on the same which are under consideration.
The National Advisory Council (NAC ) wants “the present Land Acquisition Act 1894 to be repealed and the two Bills,namely Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill 2009 (LAA 2009) and Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill, 2009 (R&R 2009) should be consolidated. Both the Bills are intrinsically inter-related, as processes of acquisition are organically linked to those of resettlement and rehabilitation; and a comprehensive Act will remove some of the contradictions and also not cause confusion in implementation.”[i]
However even as the Centre drafts a new land acquisition Bill, there is a new debate on its scope and the extent to which it would be binding on states. Given that land is a state subject, many experts believe the new law could at best provide an enabling framework to enable the states to enact their own laws.”[ii]

-          Singur (WB)-TATA Nano project. Project moved to Gujarat in face of protests. The Mamata Banerjee govt had passed a new law regarding return of the land to the unwilling farmers. However this law has been challenged in the Calcutta HC. And in the meanwhile the SC has restrained the WB govt from continuing with return of land until further orders by the Calcutta HC (Jun-Jul 2011).
-          Jagatsinghpur (Odisha)- POSCO Mega-steel project- Here interestingly there are strong groups who support and oppose the project. Those who support the project are also unhappy over compensation but after being reassured by the dist admn they have allowed work to continue at the site. The pro-POSCO villagers have also filed a harassment case against the anti-POSCO organization (POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti). Jul 2011.
-          Bhatta-Parsaul (UP)- low compensation and change of land-use pattern from industrial to residential. The SC has upheld Allahabad HC ruling quashing the land acquisition (Jul 2011). Four people dead in clashes with police (May 2011).
-          Aligarh (UP)- Agra-Yamuna Expressway. Protest against low compensation and demanding compensation at the rate paid to Noida and Greater Noida farmers (Aligarh farmers paid half the rate paid to Noida farmers). 3 farmers killed in police firing in Aug 2010.
-          Puri (Odisha)- Vedanta University- Proposed acquisition of 10000 acres whittled down to 6000+ acres. 4500 acres already acquired. Acquisition halted due to protests on issues ranging from loss of agricultural land, threat to eco-system and biodiversity, threat to water-recharging and water availability. Doubts also arose because the Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (GOI) had identified 1.82 million tonnes of thorium-bearing monazite resources along the Orissa coast—the same area, oddly, where Agarwal wants his world-class university. The Orissa HC rejected the deal and held that the transactions were vitiated by fraud and malafide intent. The SC in Jan 2011 also ordered the state govt to maintain status quo on the project.
-          Niyamgiri (Odisha)- Vedanta Aluminium Ltd. mining project opposed by Dongaria Kondh tribals. The MoEF had rejected the forest clearance for mining in August 2010. The Vedanta case is to be heard before the National Green Tribunal on July 7th 2011.


July 2011: SC slams UP’s land acquisition[iii]- The SC called the UP govts land acquisition as anti-poor and sinister. It stated that the govt is acquiring land for developers of malls and residential complexes and paying a pittance to the land-owners. It slammed the Land Acquisition Act as an ‘engine of oppression’. The SC upheld the Allahabad HC’s verdict quashing the acquisition of agricultural land, because the Greater Noida Authority had not given the farmers the opportunity to file their protest against land acquisition as provided in the Act. The Greater Noida Authority also paid farmers @ Rs.850 per sq metre when it later allotted the land to real estate developers @ Rs.10000 per sq metres. In this it changed the land use from industrial use to residential use without due notice. The SC also imposed a fine of Rs 10 lakh on the Greater Noida Authority.

Jul 2011: New Land Acquisition Policy in Bihar[iv]-  In keeping with the climate of protests against unfair land acquisition the Bihar govt has formulated a new policy titled ‘Aao Bihar’. This is aimed at increasing investor confidence that land is available in Bihar. Under this policy the govt would not acquire land directly but would only act as a facilitator. This would be done by creating a ‘land bank’ wherein details of famers willing to part with their land and their preferred price would be verified and displayed on a website. Interested buyers can have information about available pieces of land and their prices. This formula has been successfully applied in a buying land for a thermal power plant in Banka dist.

Jun 2011: New Land Acquisition Policy in Uttar Pradesh[v][vi]-
            Necessitated because: (a) Violent protests against land acquisition were staged in Bhatta and Parsaul (Greater Noida), Tappal (Aligarh) where 3 farmers died in police firing, Chandauli dist. (b) Assembly elections are due in 2012 and Mayawati’s BSp wishes to contain the damage done due to this issue.
            Feature: (a) The developers would directly negotiate for land with the farmers. The state government would only play the role of a facilitator.
(b) Land will not be acquired without the farmers express consent under a written agreement.
(c)  Price of land will be negotiated between the state and the farmer.
(d) Propose to pay farmer an annuity @ Rs.20000 for 33 years with a provision for an annual hike.
(e) The benefiting company would have to reserve 25% shares for affected farmers who have the freedom to buy/forego the same.
(f) Allocation of 7% of acquired land to farmers for building houses.

Dec 2010: New Land Acquisition Policy in Gujarat[vii] 
Necessitated because: (a) of the increasing demand for land for industrial purposes and the shortage of government land; (b) to encourage the farmers to voluntarily part with their land for  industrial purposes; (c)to protect the farmer from parting with his land at throwaway prices; (d) to make farmers partners in development.
Features:  (a) The Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC)would acquire land only with the consent of farmer.
(b) Pay farmers at prevailing market rate which would be determined by the Centre for Planning and Technology. Additionally they would also be given an additional 10% of the price secured from industries who are allotted the developed plot.
(c) If the farmer loses the entire land-holding he would be given an additional compensation of 750 days of agricultural wage (amounting to Rs.75000 at the present wage structure); and if farmer loses part of the land-holding he would be given 500 days of agricultural wage.
(d) GIDC would sponsor the training of a family-member in it is for a vocation of persons choice. Also insist on them being given jobs on the industrial estate.

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