There is still no consensus on the controversial land acquisition Bill, with Ministers expressing contrary views on issues such as its prospective nature, the basis for land valuation, and sectors exempted from the Bill’s provisions, at a meeting held on Thursday to thrash out differences.
Earlier this month, the Union Cabinet referred the Bill to a 14-member Group of Ministers after several Cabinet Ministers expressed reservations against provisions seen as hurdles to industry and infrastructure development.
“Some members gave their opinions… No decision was taken today [on Thursday],” Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, who chairs the GoM, said after the meeting. He indicated that a final consensus could evolve at the next meeting to be held after he returns from a trip to Vietnam on October 4. The government hopes to introduce the Right to Fair Compensation, Resettlement, Rehabilitation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Bill in the winter session of Parliament.
According to sources at the meeting, the members who spoke included Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma, Railways and Highways Minister C.P Joshi – all three of whom have raised objections to certain provisions in the Bill – as well as Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, Tribal Affairs and Panchayati Raj Minister Kishore Chandra Deo, Petroleum Minister Jaipal Reddy and Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, whose Ministry is introducing the Bill.
Mr. Nath said he had concerns about the fair valuation of land, pointing out that the circle rate often does not reflect the actual market rate. Although the Bill provides for multiples of the circle rate, this may not be enough. “I have suggested that the gram panchayat must decide the price of land,” he said, arguing that high-yielding agricultural land would have to be valued differently from other land. However, leaving it entirely to individual gram panchayats would mean that no minimum base level for valuation would be stipulated under the Bill. Mr. Nath also called for the acquisition process to be speeded up.
A source present at the meeting said there was “a strong view expressed that the Bill should have a window of retrospectivity,” which was present in the legislation’s original avatar. This view – which has been a major agenda point for civil society activists – calls for the Bill’s provisions to apply to ongoing acquisitions, in cases where actual land transfer and compensation have not yet taken place. However, other members reportedly expressed the opposing view – favoured by industry associations – that the Bill’s impact should be “cleanly prospective.” Another issue of debate was Schedule 4 of the Bill, which lists Acts – such as those governing the mining sector – which are exempted from the purview of the Bill. Some members strongly felt Acts dealing with minerals and coal mining should be taken out of the Schedule, while others felt they should remain.
According to one source, the “middle path” lies in Section 98.3, which empowers the government to amend even the exempted Acts, to ensure that they comply with the compensation and rehabilitation provisions of the Bill.