With a Group of Ministers (GoM) set to consider amendments to the controversial Land Acquisition Bill on Thursday, the Rural Development Ministry is pushing the investor-friendly highlights of the bill.
The GoM was set up after several Cabinet Ministers, including Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath, Highways and Railways Minister C.P. Joshi and Commerce Minister Anand Sharma, raised objections to provisions that were seen as hurdles to infrastructure development and investor sentiment.
At a time when the UPA government is pushing economic reforms in order to be seen as investor-friendly, these are viewed as potent objections.
In a note being circulated to members of the GoM by the Rural Development Ministry, one section deals with five “investor-friendly clauses.” For instance, the latest version of the Bill dispenses with the need for consent from those who depend on the land for their livelihood, as well as from those who own it. Instead, only 80 per cent of land losers, not livelihood losers, will have to agree with the acquisition, although both groups will be eligible for compensation and rehabilitation.
Another major change is that the Bill will only apply prospectively, and will have no impact on ongoing acquisitions. Project proponents can also wash their hands of resettlement and rehabilitation obligations once they have made a one-off deposit in an escrow account, leaving it to a government agency to dole out annuities and benefits, and administer the construction of resettlement infrastructure.
Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, who wants to introduce the Bill in the winter session of Parliament, is confident that the GoM, headed by Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, can conclude its discussions in a single meeting.
He has gone on record to say that the key provisions of the bill – such as landowners consent, compensation and rehabilitation — cannot be diluted further, as it was part of the Congress’ “political agenda.”
Apart from the investor-friendly elements of the Bill, another presentation of the Ministry – titled Frequently Asked Questions on the Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill – focuses on how the legislation protects the interests of other stakeholders, including State governments, farmers, scheduled castes and tribes and landless labourers.
The GoM includes Mr. Ramesh, Mr. Nath, Mr. Joshi and Mr. Sharma, as well as Defence Minister A.K. Antony, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, Petroleum Minister Jaipal Reddy, Housing Minister Kumari Selja, Social Justice Minister Mukul Wasnik, Tribal Affairs Minister V. Kishore Chandra Deo, Law Minister Salman Khursheed and Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia. Minister of State for Prime Minister’s Office V. Narayanasamy is a special invitee.
The Bill, now named “The Right to Fair Compensation, Resettlement, Rehabilitation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Bill” was originally introduced in Parliament last September, following which it was referred to a standing committee.