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Gujarat land acquisition amendments "undermine" communities' right to participate in consultation: Amnesty

Counterview Desk
Amnesty International, one of the most influential human rights organization, has taken strong exception to the amendments passed by the Gujarat government to land acquisition laws, saying they “undermine the rights of communities to participation and genuine consultation.”
Pointing out that these amendments would “contribute to forced evictions”, Amnesty in a statement issued on Friday has said that the Gujarat amendments “fall short of national and international standards related to consulting communities and conducting impact assessments.”
Amnesty quotes a minister in the Gujarat government as telling journalists, “Through this bill, we are doing away with the social impact assessment clause, as it consumes a lot of time.”
The Gujarat legislative assembly passed the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Gujarat Amendment) Bill, 2016 in its just-concluded session.
The Bill, currently pending before the Gujarat governor for a nod, was passed amidst opposition by the Congress and independent farmers' organization, Jameen Adhikar Andolan Gujarat (JAAG).
“These amendments mirror the controversial land acquisition bill that was rejected last year, following wide-scale protests by farmers, opposition parties and civil society,” Amnesy quotes Tara Rao, Programmes Director of its Indian branch as saying.
“The safeguards in the central land acquisition law must not be weakened”, Amnesty demands, adding, “The Gujarat government says it is attempting to promote industrial development, but a model that finds human rights a time-consuming hindrance must be questioned.”
Amnesty recalls, “The central Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, which came into force in January 2014, states that the consent of 70 per cent of families is mandatory where land is sought to be acquired for public-private partnership projects, and 80 per cent for private projects.”
It adds, “It also requires a social impact assessment team to determine whether a project will serve a ‘public purpose’ through a detailed cost-benefit analysis.”
However, Amnesty regrets, “The amendments passed by the Gujarat assembly remove the requirement for seeking the consent of affected families for a range of projects, including those relating to defence and national security, rural infrastructure, affordable housing, industrial corridors, and infrastructure projects.”
“The amendments also exempt these projects from having to go through a social impact assessment – a study by independent experts to map a project’s impact on people’s lands and livelihoods in consultation with affected communities”, Amnesty notes.
It comments, “Without a social impact assessment, rehabilitation and compensation measures are likely to be flawed and inadequate. Exempting projects from these assessments can deprive communities of the opportunity to be consulted on decisions that have far-reaching social and economic impacts on them.”
“The Gujarat government, through its amendments, has in effect created its own definition of public purpose. The government must withdraw these amendments, which jeopardize the human rights of millions”, it adds.

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