Hasty changes in land law

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:29 pm IST

Published - January 02, 2015 12:50 am IST

When a law is enacted after considerable debate and consultation, it will be wise to study the experience of its implementation for some time before it is amended, in order to address perceived difficulties. Any such amendment within the first year of its entry into force, especially one pushed through as an ordinance, will be inevitably perceived as hasty, even if on the positive side it is meant to eliminate delays in land acquisition. In this backdrop, the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Ordinance, 2014, is bound to face criticism that the changes constitute a significant dilution of a progressive law. >The Congress and the Left parties are likely to oppose the changes when the law comes to Parliament in the form of a bill to replace the ordinance. In substance, the ordinance makes a significant change by omitting in respect of a wide range of projects the requirements of a social impact assessment study, the informed consent of a large section of the families affected by the acquisition of land. These projects include those that are vital to national security and defence, rural infrastructure, affordable housing and housing for the poor, besides industrial corridors and infrastructure and social infrastructure projects. The vital element of making acquisition a consultative and participative process may thus be subject to bureaucratic discretion.

The principle of ‘eminent domain’, which justifies the compulsory acquisition of land by the state for a public purpose, normally ought to be accompanied by a duty to give fair compensation. However, the colonial Land Acquisition Act of 1894 had in effect reduced compensation to a mere token in relation to the market value, and for decades it was used to deprive many, mostly farmers, of their land for a pittance. Last year’s law radically altered this relationship between citizen and state and created a fair compensation right, as well as a new structure for rehabilitation and resettlement. It also cast a duty on the government to create specified amenities in every resettlement area. Thankfully, the ordinance does not dilute these provisions, but additionally extends them to a list of Acts that were previously exempted. However, this is not its own contribution, as the original Act itself said such a provision shall be enacted within a year. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has projected the amendments as those that strengthen protection for the affected families and also removes difficulties in implementation. Perhaps the regime’s intentions could have been better understood had the changes been introduced as a bill in Parliament and referred to a committee for appraisal.

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