It has been a stormy start to Parliament Budget session as the united opposition has vociferously taken on the Narendra Modi government on Land Acquisition Bill. The opposition parties are against the Bill accusing the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government of bulldozing its way through in Parliament.
Prime Minister Modi is now leading the government from the front and has directed all his MPs to aggressively defend the Bill and not be affected by the oppositions’ charges.
The Bill will replace the ordinance promulgated by the government in December 2014, which had brought changes in the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation (Amendment) Act (RFCTLARR) passed in 2013 by the UPA government. If the Bill is not passed in this session, then the ordinance will lapse and cannot be introduced again.
Till now whenever the government acquires a land, it is done under the Land Acquisition Act 1894. In 2007, the UPA government brought in The Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill to replace the Act.
After the Modi government took over in May 2014, it decided to make some amendments in the Bill which have become a bone of contention. According PRS Legislative Research these are:
1. Excluded Acts brought under the RFCTLARR Act: According to the Act 2013, 13 Acts were excluded from the RFCTLARR Act but with the new ordinance they are now brought under its purview. Thus, it brings the compensation, rehabilitation and resettlement provisions of these 13 laws in consonance with the Act.
2. Removal of consent clause in five areas: The ordinance removes the consent clause for acquiring land for five areas — industrial corridors, public private partnership projects, rural infrastructure, affordable housing and defence.
The ordinance also exempts projects in these five areas from Social Impact Assessment and acquisition of irrigated multi-cropped land and other agricultural land, which earlier could not be acquired beyond a certain limit.
3. Return of unutilised land: According to the Act 2013, if the land remains unutilised for five years, then it needs to be returned to the owner. But according to the ordinance the period after which unutilised land needs to be returned will be five years, or any period specified at the time of setting up the project, whichever is later.
4. Time frame: The ordinance states that if the possession of acquired land under Act 1984 is not taken for reasons, then the new law will be applied.
5. Word ‘private company’ replaced with ‘private entity’: While the Act 2013 stated that the land can be acquired for private companies, the ordinance replaced it with private entity. A private entity is an entity other than a government entity, and could include a proprietorship, partnership, company, corporation, non-profit organisation, or other entity under any other law.
6. Offence by government officials: If an offence is committed by a government official or the head of the department, then s/he cannot be prosecuted without the prior sanction of the government.