Sunday, October 11, 2015

Gujarat land bill: Only surplus land in urban bodies to be "acquired", as it "can't be used for agriculture"

Gujarat state assembly
By Rajiv Shah

Contradicting the claims of Gujarat-based activists and the Opposition Congress, a senior Gujarat government bureaucrat has told Counterview that main purpose of controversial the Gujarat Agricultural Land Ceiling (Amendment) Bill, 2015 “is to transfer surplus land, lying idle, within municipal corporation and municipality bodies, for public purpose”, and “not to take away land meant for Dalits, tribals and other marginalized groups, as is being made out.”
Sharply reacting to the critical view taken on the Bill, the bureaucrat, who was involved in drafting it, but refused to be named, said, the term “public purpose” is pretty well-defined – “it does not mean handing over land to any industrial house, as is being made out, but to transfer the idle land for, say, creating a solid waste recycling site.”
The bill is currently lying with the President of India for his final nod after the Gujarat governor decided not to sign it, apparently taking note of the possibilities of sharp reactions against it. The Congress recently represented before the President, asking him not to sign the Bill, as it would “stop” the process of transferring surplus land to 54 lakh landless agricultural labourers, mostly Dalits, tribals and OBCs.
The Bill was passed in controversial circumstances in the Gujarat state assembly, after the entire Congress opposition was suspended on the second day of the two-day House session, held this August.
The bureaucrat said, “What the detractors of the Bill fail to understand is, a lot of surplus land, acquired decades ago, is lying idle in the state’s urban areas. Our only propose is to utilize this land for public purpose. It makes little sense for allocating surplus land, lying in municipal corporations and municipalities, to be handed over to the landless, as you cannot have agriculture in urban areas.”
The bureaucrat claimed, “There is no provision in the Bill which seeks to transfer surplus land, lying idle in the rural areas, to the industrialists or even for any purpose.”
According to him, the only important amendment for the rural areas is “to acquire a particular plot of land coming in the way of implementing an industrial project already being set up, and hand over, in lieu of that, a land of the same size to the farmer within the vicinity.”
“This is a major amendment and a win-win situation for both farmers and industrialists”, the bureaucrat said, adding, “This amendment would ensure that the farmer does not lose the land, as he would get it elsewhere within the vicinity, and also that it would facilitate industrial project to be implemented as quickly as possible.”
The bureaucrat denied that the Bill in any way contradicts the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Act, 2013, whose amendments were dropped by the Government of India following protests. More recently, Niti Ayog vice-chairman told states to frame their own land laws to “bypass” LARR.
“While some states (Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu) may have amended their land laws to provide precedence of their state laws over LARR, Gujarat has still not thought about what to do about it. We haven't even begun the process”, the bureaucrat said.
Meanwhile, Sachivalaya insiders admit, certain provisions in an earlier law, the Special Investment Region Act, 2009, “help” the Gujarat government to not only undermine LARR, but acquire land through its town planning Act, which makes it “mandatory” to hand over 40 per cent of agricultural land under a designated urban area for the sake of creating urban infrastructure.
“The provision has been applied to Dholera SIR, the 900 sq km area proposed as smart city, situated about 90 km south of Ahmedabad city”, a top insider in the chief minister's office (CMO) said.
The insider, however, added, “While notices may have been served to farmers, we believe it was a mistake. We have decided not to go ahead with them, as there is a strong thinking in the government that it was a mistake to having made such a provision in the SIR, as it would adveserly affect an area which is largely largely agricultural.”
Particularly blaming those at the helm of affairs of the state industries department in the Gujarat government then, the insider insisted, “Those who pushed for it in the government little realized the problems it would create to the farmers, on one hand, and to the state government, on the other.”

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