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Ministries acquire land under their own laws as GoI amends acquisition law

By Venkatesh Nayak*
Parliament enacted the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (RFCTLARR Act) in September 2013. The Government of India (GoI) enforced this Act fully on January 1, 2014. This law repealed the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 under which the Central and State Governments acquired land for public purpose. By an Ordinance issued on December 31, 2014, GoI made several amendments to the RFCTLARR Act. One major aspect of these amendments was the inclusion of all 13 laws listed in the 4th Schedule within the RFCTLARR Act for the twin purposes of calculating and paying compensating persons whose lands are acquired for “public purpose” as defined in the Act, and also for ensuring their rehabilitation and resettlement (if they are displaced as a result of the land acquisition). The earlier chapters such as conducting Social Impact Assessment (SIA) and preparing a mitigation plan required under RFCTLARR Act do not apply to these Ministries administering these 13 laws.
RFCTLARR Act is not only important because it seeks to bring about a sea change in the manner in which appropriate governments acquire land from people for public purposes and how the affected and interested individuals and families must be compensated and rehabilitated and resettled, if displaced, but also because it places enormous emphasis on the transparency of all actions and decisions taken under this law. The Amendments made by GoI through the Ordinances do not take away from these transparency provisions. Every document relating to land acquisition under this law is required to be accessible to any person, let alone those affected by land acquisition, is to be made accessible to people on request or in a large majority of circumstances, publicised through various means including websites of the Ministries which acquire land for public purposes.
Under the RFCTLARR Act, Governments are required to comply with several procedures for identifying and acquiring land apart from compensating, rehabilitating and resettling the affected and interested people and families. This study looks at the manner in which Ministries under GoI have acquired land after the RFCTLARR Act was amended in December 2015. For the purpose of the study CHRI’s Research Team has looked up all notifications published by various Ministries under GoI relating to land acquisition from 01 January – 30 June 2015 as published on http://www.egazette.nic.in/. The relevant websites of the Ministries have also been checked for similar information to ensure comprehensiveness of the research. In this study we have covered 505 gazette notifications of Ministries and public authorities under GoI declaring:
  • Intent to acquire land for “public purpose” (NOIs);
  • The competent authority for the purpose of land acquisition (NOCAs); and
  • That they have acquired the land (NOAs) for the public purpose declared in the NOI.

Preliminary Findings

1) The study indicates that only the Ministries of Road Transport and Highways, Railways, Coal and Petroleum and Natural Gas under GoI have acquired land for “public purpose” during January 1 to June 30, 2015. We have found 219 such notifications published during the period.
2) This study does not reveal any instance of the use of the RFCTLARR Act by these ministries for the purpose of acquiring land for developmental projects. All 219 acquisitions have been made under the sector-specific land acquisition laws administered by each Ministry.
3) The Ministries have acquired land only for the purpose of building new highways or widening existing ones; prospecting or actually mining for coal; laying down railway tracks (segments of the Eastern and Western Dedicated Freight Corridors amongst others) and pipelines for transporting petroleum, natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).
4) Land has been acquired by these four Ministries in 1,584 villages situated inmore than 263 talukas in 141 districts across 22 States.
5) Two of the developmental projects are in Schedule V areas (inhabited by members of Scheduled Tribes) in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. According to Section 41 of the RFCTLARR Act, land may be acquired in a Scheduled Area only as a last resort and that too after obtaining prior consent of the Gram Sabha or the panchayat. Nothing in the Gazette notifications studied here mention details of such a process having been undertaken prior to the acquisition of land.
6) None of the notifications indicate that land has been acquired by any Ministry under GoI for defence purposes or rural electrification or affordable housing or housing for the poor – “special categories of public purposes” for which the appropriate governments may waive the requirement for doing SIAs and the subsequent procedures. These exceptions were introduced into the RFCTLARR Act through the Ordinances.
7) A large number of segments of land acquired are wetland or irrigated agricultural plots.
8) Between January 1 and June 30, 2015 the Ministries of Railways, Road Transport and Highways, Coal, Petroleum and Natural Gas and the Metro Railway issued 274 gazette notifications declaring their intention to acquire land for various developmental projects in more than 2,320 villages in more than 403 talukas in 157 districts across 21 States (see Table 4). The process of land acquisition is still going on in these projects.
9) During the entire six month period, these Ministries declared their intention to acquire land under their sector-specific land acquisition laws instead of the RFCTLARR Act, 2013 despite being brought under this law through the Ordinances issued in December 2014 and again in April and again June 2015 for the purpose determining compensation and ensuring rehabilitation and resettlement of the displaced persons, if any.
10) The most number of NOIs in a State during the six month period under study pertain to Uttar Pradesh (34) followed by Rajasthan (33), Gujarat (27), Karnataka (24) and Tamil Nadu (19) occupying the remaining top 5 slots.
11) In terms of the most number of villages in any State affected by the NOIs issued during this period, Uttar Pradesh tops the list with more than 553 villages followed by Karnataka (349 villages), Chhattisgarh (25 villages), Rajasthan (172 villages) and Gujarat (166 villages) occupying the top 5 slots.
12) 3 projects for which NOIs have been issued in Jharkhand, i.e., 2 in Ranchi and 1 in East Singhbhum, and 4 projects in Chhattisgarh in the districts of Jashpur (2), Korba (1) and Surguja (1) are situated in areas covered by the Schedule V of the Constitution.
13) Two NOAs and five NOIs involve a private company, namely, Reliance Industries Ltd, for the purpose of laying pipelines for transport of natural gas through the State of Madhya Pradesh.
Given these findings, it is intriguing that GoI had impressed upon the President of India about the urgency of amending the RFCTLARR Act through an Ordinance repeatedly, while its own Ministries have not shown any interest in acquiring land under this law to demonstrate that the ‘urgency’ is very real.

Purpose of this Study

This study is not about questioning the decisions of government to implement developmental projects and acquire land for such purposes. The purpose of this research is to enable lawmakers, policymakers, civil society actors, academia, the media, and farmers’ groups to debate the manner in which land is being acquired for public purposes since January 2015 and debate how best the RFCTLARR Act may be implemented with or without amendments.
There has been some debate recently about allowing States the freedom to enact their own land acquisition laws or policies. I believe, Section 107 of the RFCTLARR recognises the power of States to enact their own laws or institute their own policies for providing better compensation or for making more beneficial provisions for resettlement and rehabilitation. Section 108 of the Act recognises the right of an affected person to choose between the Central or State laws as to which is more beneficial to them.
So, the big question is whether more efforts should be put in to educate people about the RFCTLARR Act and its counterparts in the States as and when they come into existence or to amend the Central law while the Ministries under GoI continue to do their thing under their sector-specific laws.

*Programme Coordinator, Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Delhi

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