Saturday, June 13, 2015

Swaraj Abhiyan plans protest at Tata Nano in Gujarat, calls amendments to land Act worse than colonial law

From left: Prashant Bhushan, Anand Kumar and Yogendra Yadav 
By Our Representative
Swaraj Abhiyan, the split-away group of the Aam Aadmi Party, in a scholarly submission to the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC), has said that the Government of India’s the proposed amendments to the Land Acquisition Act (LAA), 2013 are ultra vires to the Constitution of India as also the stated objective of “participative, informed and transparent" consultation for acquiring land.
In its submission before the JPC, Swaraj Abhiayan says, the second amendment bill to the LAA, 2013 actually does away with “the need to ensure, in consultation with institutions of local self-government and Gram Sabhas established under the Constitution”, which suggests it is against the constitutional provisions of grassroots democracy.
Signed by its senior-most leaders, two of whom are well-known scholars -- Anand Kumar and Yogendra Yadav – and well-known Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan, the submission believes, the amendments have being introduced for several “oblique purposes” as seen from the fact that it has set aside two of the main cornerstones of the LLA, 2013 – social impact assessment and consent ahead of any land acquisition.
Pointing out that this is clear from the fact that till August 2014, the present government found “nothing wrong with the LAA, 2013”, the submission says, suddenly, between August to December 2014, without having tried to implement the Act, the government found LAA, 2013 “dangerous”, declaring the need for major amendments”.
In fact, the submission says, the government did not care to try or test LAA, 2013. Thus, “it neither constituted the National Monitoring Committee (as stipulated under Section 48 of the Principal Act) nor any Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Authority (as stipulated under Section 51 of the Principal Act)”.
Taking strong exception to the provision which says that the government can go ahead with land acquisition for any “private entity” (as against “company”), the submission says, this is “intended to benefit a class or classes of people by providing them forcibly acquired land at low price, for profiteering.”
Coming to the provision which says land acquisition would be carried out for “affordable housing and housing for the poor”, Swaraj Abhiayan believes, the actual intention of the government is to “make land banks available to real estate lobby at cheap prices.”
It explains, “The distinction between affordable housing and housing for the poor is a clue to the real intent of the government – the wording indicates that these are two different things. Affordable is a relative term and can be applied for any class of society, including the rich.”
As for the provision for allowing land acquisition for industrial corridors for up to one kilometers stretch on both sides of the railway line passing through it, Swaraj Abhiayan says, it is nothing but “an invitation to the biggest land grab in the history of our country. The expression ‘industrial corridor’ has not been defined and can be interpreted to include housing and real estate projects.”
Objecting to the accountability provision of the LAA, 2013, the submission says, “The new amended section allows for prosecution only after taking sanction from the government under section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. It is well known that this notorious provision has been used by successive governments in order to shield corrupt and errant officials.”
Finally, Swaraj Abhiayan objects to the term “market value” for providing compensation, saying, “It is well-known that recorded rates in Registration Offices are a small fraction of the actual rates at which land transactions take place.”
It says, “The experience of implementation of the Act has already shown that state governments have used this discretion to the disadvantage of the farmers.” Haryana, for example, issued a notification which in actuality gave compensation to the tune of 2 to 2.5 times, but “nowhere close to the promised 4 times”, as stipulated in the LAA, 2013. “This is gross injustice to the farmers”, it emphasizes.
Calling the proposed amendments worse than “the old, colonial and predatory Land Acquisition Act of 1894”, Swaraj Abhaiyan says, “The Act of 1894 at least provided the affected landowners the right to object and be heard.” However, the latest amendments to the Act seek to bypass “the entire procedural requirements, now the landowners would not enjoy even this minimal safeguard.”

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