The New Land Acquisition Ordinance: Dismissing Democracy, Displacing Safeguards?

The New Land Acquisition Ordinance: Dismissing Democracy, Displacing Safeguards?

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 #LandAcquisitionbill facing stiff opposition in Parliament. @OxfamIndia lists its expectations. http://bit.ly/1OaI9Sr

 50m people displaced due to “development projects” in 50 years. @OxfamIndia lists its demands from the #LandAcquisitionbill. http://bit.ly/1OaI9Sr

The second half of the Budget session resumed on April 20, 2015 and the government faced stiff opposition in its attempt to re-promulgate the Land Ordinance that lapsed on April 6 following rejection in the Rajya Sabha (the Upper House).   

The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (LARR Act 2013) was passed in September 2013, replacing the draconian Land Acquisition Act of 1894. 

The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Ordinance, 2014 (LARR Ordinance 2014) was introduced by the BJP-led government on December 31, 2014 which was later introduced in Lok Sabha (the Lower House) as a bill. The LARR Bill 2015 was passed in the Lok Sabha, despite many voices of dissent due to the majority the BJP enjoys in the Lok Sabha. .  

However, BJP could not convert the Bill to an Act in the first half of the budget session in Parliament due to an unprecedented, unified opposition in Rajya Sabha. To circumvent the deadlock and to make sure LARR Bill 2015 becomes a law, the BJP government re-promulgated the ordinance upon reconvening of the budget session. It is interesting that the government is taking the ‘ordinance route’ 11th time in less than a year. The latest version is called the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Ordinance, 2015 (LARR Ordinance 2015).   

LARR Ordinance 2015 incorporates all the nine amendments that were part of the LARR Bill 2015. The new LARR Ordinance 2015 is only valid for six weeks after the reassembling of Parliament, and the passage of the bill into a law seems an uphill task. However, by repeatedly resorting to the ordinance route pushing for a regressive law, the current dispensation is sending out a strong message about its development priorities. 

Political parties including Indian National Congress, Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Trinamool Congress (TMC), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Janata Dal (United), Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Communist Party of India are opposed to the amendments as passed by the Lok Sabha as part of the LARR Bill 2015. These parties are in majority in the Rajya Sabha. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) will make their stand known only at the time of voting. Interestingly, BJP was among the parties that supported the LARR Act 2013. 

Why the Opposition

These parties are in majority in the Upper House, the Rajya Sabha. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Biju Janta Dal (BJD) are the fence sitters and their stand will be known only at the time of voting. Interestingly, BJP was among the parties that supported the LARR Act 2013. 

Why the Opposition

The current version of the LARR Ordinance is tipped in favour of the industry and is considered to be anti-farmer. The LARR Act 2013 was enacted during the UPA-II regime, after rounds of consultations and discussions with various stakeholders with important provisions on consent of project-affected people and social impact assessment. 

The NDA, led by the BJP, which came to power in 2014, issued an ordinance with significant – and regressive – amendments to the Act. Official sources state that this was done by the government to ‘expedite the process of land acquisition for strategic and development activities’.  However, the 2014 Ordinance undid many of the progressive gains achieved by the 2013 Act. The Government‘s reaction to the unified opposition to the bill, that of promulgating the Ordinance a second time, shows its determination to ensure the changes are made.

The most striking was the removal of consent clause for acquiring land for five areas — industrial corridors, public private partnership (PPP) projects, rural infrastructure, affordable housing and defence. It undoes the applicability of clauses of Consent, Social Impact Assessment (SIA) and Food Security Safeguards related to acquisition for a range of projects including mining, SEZs, transportation and tourism.  

It limits applicability of the clauses related to return of unutilized land and modifies the applicability of clauses related to initiation of land acquisition proceedings under LARR Act 2013, if no physical possession of land or compensation has been initiated for five years. All these changes are in favour of those acquiring land rather than the project impacted communities, especially those who are poor and marginalised.  

What We Want

A recent Oxfam India policy brief reveals that 50 million people have been displaced due to “development projects” over 50 years in India as per government’s own estimates. These are stark numbers and it is in this backdrop that the LARR Act 2013 replaced the Land Acquisition Act of 1894. 

The 2013 legislation laid down an elaborate process including ‘requiring consent from project-affected people’. This process was mandated for each instance of land acquisition and rehabilitation — be it for public, private or for projects executed through Public Private Partnership (PPP). 

Oxfam India puts forth the following policy recommendations in light of the current ordinance making sweeping dilutions to the LARR Act 2013: 

•The dilutions made in the LARR Act 2013 through the present ordinance should be rolled back.

•Exemptions to a whole range of projects on seeking consent from the affected people should be reinstated.

•Exemptions to Social Impact Assessment (SIA) on acquisition of land for private projects including multi-cropped land should be revoked.

•The provisions related to return of unutilized land should be reinstated. 

The LARR Ordinance, 2015 is a retrograde step that targets speedy land acquisitions for projects but in the bargain create irreversible social and environmental conflicts. In the garb of development, the Ordinance disempowers the communities in taking decisions related to land use change and land acquisition. It is hence essential that these regressive legal provisions are rolled back and rights are, once again, vested in the hands of the communities. 

Written by: Oxfam India staff

 


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