Sunday, October 11, 2015

Gujarat's 2015 Bill seeks to "transfer" land meant for landless, SCs, STs, OBCs, to industrial houses

Persis Ginwalla
By Our Representative
Two senior Gujarat-based activists, one of them a development professional, have alleged that the Gujarat Agricultural Land Ceiling (Amendment) Bill, 2015 is a state government effort to “undermine” the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (LARR), 2013, whose amendments were dropped by the Centre after their “anti-farmer” character was exposed through “nation-wide agitations”.
In a discussion paper, distributed to top Indian activists, Persis Ginwalla and Sagar Rabari, associated with Jameen Adhikar Andolan Gujarat (JAAG) and Khedut Samaj Gujarat (KSG), say that the Bill, which amends four laws, the most important being the Gujarat Agricultural Lands Ceiling Act, 1960, has sought to “make transfer of land to industry and industrialists as easy as possible and at minimum cost to the purchasing industry/industrialist.”
The Bill, passed by the Gujarat state assembly in the absence the Opposition (it was suspended en masse) in August, is pending Presidential nod after the Gujarat governor decided not to sign it. The governor sent the Bill for a Delhi nod despite the fact that the Modi government has insisted upon states to pass their own amendments to “undermine” LARR, 2013. Already, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu have followed suit.
The Congress has represented to the President, asking him not to sign the 2015 amendment Bill, as it would stop the process of transfer of surplus land to marginalized communities – SCs, STs and OBCs. According to rough estimates, there are 54 lakh landless workers who have yet to benefit from the surplus land, lying with the government.
Pointing towards the significance of the Agricultural Lands Ceiling Act, 1960, the paper says, “The rationale for the introduction of land ceiling was to end the monopoly on land ownership enjoyed by a few, and to redistribute this resource for more equitable society.”
The paper, which is perhaps the first major critique of the 2015 Gujarat Bill, says that even the Preamble makes it clear what the real purpose is -- for allotment of land “for industrial purpose or for the development thereof or for any public purpose”. It adds, there is a “problem” with the definition ‘public purpose’, wondering who will define it, Minister, Secretary, Collector, Mamlatdar, or someone else.
The paper says, the Bill talks of allowing land to be given/sold, after the payment of occupancy price for “any urban local body, for public purpose, when the land is situated within the areas of such local body”, and to “any person, for industrial purpose or for the purpose of development thereof, when the land is situated outside the areas of the urban local body”.
Suggesting tha this particularly undermines the Land Ceiling Act, which impose land ceiling on “large landholders”, and sought to distribute surplus land to “landless or small and marginal farmers”, the paper says, "This task the government never completed. With urbanisation, these unutilised lands remain vacant and have appreciated manifold in value”, adding, “The government is turning an asset of someone’s holding (the erstwhile landowner) into a tradeable commodity in the open market” enabling “some ‘favoured’ industrialists to earn landslide profits without doing anything.”
No doubt, the paper says, the 2015 Bill does seek to “make available equivalent quantum of agricultural land in the nearby vicinity”, but there are “two misgiving: Firstly, the phrase 'in the nearby vicinity' is vague and can be made to mean anything, and hence can be rendered useless. Secondly, the value of land within city limits and the price of land outside city limits, even if it is an equivalent quantum, cannot be compared.”
Yet another amendment, the paper says, stipulates that “... any land allotted either under clause (v) or (vi) of sub-section (1) of section 29, to any urban local body or any person respectively shall be of old tenure”, which suggests that the land “given under tenancy Act, Ceiling Act and Bhoodan lands, which were to ‘new tenure’ land regulations”, would be deemed as “old tenure.”
The paper comments, “This amendment removes this safeguard and brings this valuable asset within the ambit of the ‘land market’. Moreover, automatic conversion to ‘old tenure’ means that the premium amount for conversion is no longer payable. Can this be construed as yet another ‘subsidy’ to industry in the name of ‘growth’ and ‘development’?”
The paper says, the “most appalling of the amendment” is the district collector being allowed to come to the conclusion that if “the purchaser has failed to commence production of goods or providing of services within the period as specified”. In such a case, the land would “vest in the state government on payment to the purchaser of such compensation as the state government may determine”, and with the government having the right to dispose of the land “as it may deem fit.”
Comments the paper, this empowers the “district collector to determine the cost incurred by the industrialist in failing to use the land, and to pay such compensation to him/her.” This way, “the government is ... making it mandatory for itself to ‘rescue’ a rogue industrialist who fails in his/her undertaking to put up an industry and to compensate him/her 'adequately and appropriately’.”

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