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Land rights group protests Gujarat move to drop consent, social impact assessment for land acquisition

By Our Representative
In a sharp critique of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Gujarat Amendment) Bill, 2016, passed in the Gujarat state assembly on Thursday, Jameen Adhikar Aandolan Gujarat (JAAG), a land rights network of civil society organisations, has taken strong exception to "dropping" the consent clause and social impact assessment (SIA) provisions of the Central Land Acquisition Act (LAA), 2013.
Pointing out that the Gujarat government has brought back Land Acquisition Ordinance, 2015 dropped by the Government of India under popular pressure, JAAG has described the state government move as "anti-farmer face", pointing out, "The meagre safety and rights that were guaranteed to the farmers by the LAA, 2013 are set to be snatched away, once and for all in Gujarat."
Providing a point-by-point critique of the Gujarat bill, "Amendment 3 of the Bill exempts projects listed in section 10 A from requirements of 'Consent of affected families' and 'Social Impact Assessment', over and above those contained within the definition of ‘public purpose’, which were the heart and soul of the LAA, 2013."
"The new exemptions", said the critique, include (a) Such projects vital to national security or defence of India and every part thereof, including preparation for defence, or defence production; (b) Rural infrastructure including electrification; (c) Affordable housing and housing for the poor peopl (d) Industrial corridors; and (e) Infrastructure and social infrastructure projects including projects under public private partnership where the ownership of land continues to vest with the Government."
Further, said JAAG, in a statement issued in Ahmedabad, "Section 23A has been inserted after Section 23, which essentially gives the district collector the power to decide on the matter of land acquisition and compensation amount without enquiry, with mutual consent of the parties."
Then, it said, "Section 24(2) stipulated that in cases where land had been acquired under the provisions of LAA of 1894 but physical possession had not been taken or compensation had not been paid, then the proceedings were to be deemed to have lapsed and the matter would have to be started afresh under the provisions of this Act."
"The Gujarat bill amends this provision by adding a proviso which essentially means that any delay on account of litigation (court mandated stay or injunction), or where the compensation amount lies unclaimed in the court, then such period will not be factored into the computation of the period of limitation", JAAG said.
JAAG added, "Section 87 stipulated when and under what conditions a government officer could be held guilty and proceeded against in a court of law. It removed the earlier constraint, viz. 'the previous sanction of the appropriate Government' and would therefore act as a deterrent to bureaucrat-businessman nexus which was always detrimental to farmers’ interests."
"This section has been amended by the Ordinance and restores the previous limitation of government sanction for prosecution of a government employee", it pointed out, adding, "The amendments in the Bill are a clear statement of the intentions of the government about its priorities and its leanings, if any is yet required."
Pointing out that "the industrialists and the corporate lobby had made it amply clear that it was ‘displeased’ with the LAA, 2013 and that it needed action, and fast", JAAG said, "The Gujarat government has obeyed the dictats."
"The Gujarat government and the ruling party which, since the recent debacle in the local government elections, has been crying itself hoarse about its rural and farmer centric policies and programmes has clearly shown its true colours", it underlined, adding, "It never did and does not have the interests of the rural and the farming community at heart."
Demanding that the amendments be "dropped and the central LAA, 2013 be adopted in its place", the statement said, "We also ask the opposition Congress, whether it will go beyond mere photo-ops and do something concrete to fight this piece of legislation, as it had led the campaign against the Ordinance at the national level."
Among those who have signed the JAAG statement include Sagar Rabari and Persis Ginwalla of JAAG; Ashok Shrimali, Secretary General, Mines, Minerals and People; Jimmy C Dabhi of the Human Resource Development Centre, Ahmedabad; Mahesh Pandya of the Paryavaran Mitra; Right to Information activist Pankti Jog; and Rohit Prajapati and Krishnakant of the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti.

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