A controversial Bill on land acquisition and the compensation and rehabilitation of those whose land is sought to be acquired ran into opposition in the Cabinet on Tuesday, resulting in referral to a Group of Ministers (GoM).

Last week, the Cabinet deferred discussion on the newly renamed Right to Fair Compensation, Resettlement, Rehabilitation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Bill, 2012, which was scheduled to be introduced in Parliament in the monsoon session. On Tuesday, several Ministers — mostly from infrastructure ministries — brought up concerns about provisions in the Bill, resulting in further delay as the matter will now be decided by a GoM.

The original Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011, was introduced in Parliament last September and referred to a Parliamentary Standing Committee. The panel’s report was submitted in May this year, following which the Rural Development Ministry re-wrote the Bill to incorporate many of its recommendations.

Despite the revisions, the Bill has come in for vociferous objections from two sides. Provisions such as mandatory consent by 80 per cent of landowners, a social impact assessment of projects, and the need for resettlement rather than mere cash compensation have raised the ire of business lobbies, who feel that industrial and infrastructure projects will be stalled. According to government sources, Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath raised several of these issues at the Cabinet meeting.

However, farmers’ rights groups and civil society activists speaking on behalf of landless labourers and others dependent on the land for their livelihood have said the provisions are not stringent enough. They oppose the idea of the government acquiring land for private and PPP projects, even if they are in public interest.

Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh recently admitted that economic worries have forced him to make changes to the Bill in order to dispel the impression that it was pro-farmer and anti-industry. For instance, he had changed his mind on retrospectively applying the law.

“Had the economy been growing at nine per cent per year, I may not have changed my view,” he said. “But the current economic circumstances dictate the need to make the Bill perceptively more investor-friendly.”

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