NEW DELHI: A parliamentary panel on Tuesday proposed tougher norms for acquiring land for industrial use, as it finalised the new Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development, in a report due to be tabled in the House on Thursday, proposed a more stringent definition of ‘public purpose’ to ensure that the government does not acquire land for private businesses. According to the report, the government should not acquire any land for infrastructure and projects executed under public-private partnerships.
The committee has argued that the government shouldn’t acquire any land that will be used ‘for profit’. Since the government can acquire land citing ‘public purpose’ under prevailing norms, a tighter definition of this clause is required, the committee has proposed, arguing that all economic development can be explained away as public purpose.
This spells a setback to the industry, which has been lobbying for an expansion of the clause of ‘public purpose’. Industry body CII has said that ‘public purpose’ should “be adequately expanded to empower the state to acquire land not only for infrastructure or defence purposes but also for developing land for potential use by private sector-led industrial, commercial or institutional purposes, creating wealth and employment”.
The panel has suggested that land acquisition for any purpose should be brought under the purview of this legislation, which currently exempts land acquired under 16 Acts listed in the Fourth Schedule from its ambit.
The 16 Acts include the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958; the Atomic Energy Act, 1962; the Cantonments Act, 2006; the Metro Railways (Construction of Works) Act, 1978; the National Highways Act, 1956; the SEZ Act, 2005; the Railways Act, 1989 and the Works of Defence Act, 1903.
The committee has said that any conflicting legislation should be altered to align with its proposed legislation. It has unanimously proposed that the exemption should not be permitted as most of the land acquisition takes place in the mining, power and other infrastructure sectors, and would find exemption under one or the other legislations listed in the Fourth Schedule.
Keeping land acquisition under the 16 Acts out of the purview of the proposed Bill would mean that it would be applicable to just about 5% of land acquisition, the committee has argued. In its deposition to the Standing Committee, the defence ministry made it clear that it did not seek exemption from the provisions of the proposed legislation and that it would undertake all compensatory provisions.
In another decision, the panel suggested the scrapping of the provision allowing the Centre to amend the Act by a notification. Giving the Centre the powers to change the law through executive orders undermines the purpose behind bringing the legislation in Parliament, the members said.
The panel has also proposed modification to the provisions of resettlement and rehabilitation. In case of a private purchase, a rehabilitation and resettlement package is mandatory for purchase of land more than 100 acre in rural areas and 50 acre in urban areas, according to the Bill.
While the committee agreed that a rehabilitation and resettlement package should be mandatory, it has said the states should decide the ceiling beyond which the provision kicks in because sale and purchase of land is a state subject. This will ensure that local circumstances are taken into consideration, besides safeguarding the rights of the states, the committee said.
The committee has also broadened the involvement of grassroots institutions, such as panchayats, municipalities and corporations. The bill makes provisions for tribal and forest areas but none for non-tribal areas.
Given that people’s consent is required, the committee has suggested that the local government representatives should be more involved in the process. This is in line with the Constitution, which empowers local government bodies to take decisions related to economic development
The panel’s recommendations are unlikely to find favour with a section of the government, which has been expressing its reservations about the legislation even in the form approved by the Cabinet. Senior Cabinet members, including agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, have expressed reservations, saying it would impede setting up new industries and new dams.