Monday, October 20, 2014

Gujarat government to Centre: Change "disastrous" law which delays, creates hurdles in land acquisition

By Our Representative
In a move that may raise eyebrows of senior Indian activists and experts who contributed heavily in drafting the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Act, 2013, the Gujarat government has told Government of India that LARR in its present form will “delay” and “create hurdles” in land acquisition for industrial projects, with “massive potential for misuse” by agriculturists. The pro-industry suggestions – in all about two dozen – are learnt to have been mooted under the direct guidance of additional chief secretary, industries, D Jagatheesa Pandian, a top aspirant of Gujarat chief secretary’s post.
Prepared ahead of the Vibrant Gujarat global business summit, scheduled in mid-January 2014, an authoritative document, in possession of www.counterview.net, containing a nutshell of the proposals, wants to particularly do away with “consent” in instituting projects under public private partnership (PPP), because this would “ground projects at the very start”. The document says, “Consent of majority of only affected families should be taken before a designated officer decided by the government.”
In yet another proposal, the document says, while Social Impact Assessment (SIA) may continue to remain essential for “large and typical projects” while acquiring land, “the entire chapter on SIA should exclude small projects which may be taluka, district or state specific.” In fact, is specifies, SIA should exclude “district roads, irrigation canals, power lines and other infrastructure-related projects”, adding, “In irrigation and other environment-related projects, there is a provision of EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment)”, so in such type of projects SIA should be excluded.”
The document wants the entire SIA procedures, which has “all the ingredients of delaying the acquisition process”, to be “removed”. As a matter of example it says, ”SIA casts obligations on acquiring body for keeping number of public hearings of all the people in the village which may create hurdles for the land acquisition procedure.” In such scenario, “vested” interests may hamper the process.” Then, there is the provision for creating an organization which will look into SIA, which will only prove to be “financially draining on state exchequer” and will “result into inordinate delay” in land acquisition.
The document does not think it is necessary to link food security with land acquisition. Under LARR, it says, in case of acquisition of fertile land, “equivalent area of cultivable wasteland is to be developed for agricultural purpose” in order develop a new multi-crop area. Saying Gujarat cannot put this in practice, it insists, this is because it is a “highly industrialized and urbanized” state, and hence it will be very difficult for it to “swap cultivable land” with other types of wasteland.
The document wants to redefine “market valuation” for land acquisition. As LARR wants people to know that “land may be in acquisition from the date SIA notification”, this would trigger “lot of land speculation” and “instances of sales between SIA and preliminary notifications”. Hence, valuation based on sales preceding three years from SIA notification should instead be adopted. “Even jantri (rate of registration of sales deed) price on that date may be taken and market value to be fixed as 12% interest should be given to take care of inflation up to the date of award”, it says.
Taking objection to LARR provision for return of unutilized land after five years, the document says, “Starting and completion of many projects need more than five years. Even project reports mention of long scheduling. In such case, returning lands to original owner in the name of non-utilization in five years midway is not only disastrous but also defeats the purpose of the Act. Hence, the section needs to be scrapped or suitably amended. Moreover, though general option is given, it is desirable that the Act provides circumstances in which case land is to be returned to the owners and cases of transferring it to land bank.”
The provision that puts “restriction on change of land use” after land acquisition should be scrapped, says the document, emphasizing, “When compensation at enhanced rate, equal amount as solatium and resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) benefits have been paid, such a restriction is not relevant.” In fact, it says, the lengthy procedure for R&R mentioned in LARR, should be scrapped and replace by Gujarat’s “strong and robust” policy, which requires that the displaced persons to “take care of all affected families and their belongings” with compensation to “the loss to kutcha, pucca structures, shelters, household materials and other belongings of their livelihood etc.”

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