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Land acquisition: Govt of India told to divulge details of reasons for coming up with "regressive" ordinance

By Our Representative
After dilly dallying for about a year, the Narendra Modi government will have to divulge all the materials, such as the Cabinet note and file notings, on the basis of which it had decided to come up with the now abandoned ordinance amending the controversial the Land Acquisition Act (LAA), 2013.
Titled Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, LAA 2013 was first promulgated on December 31, 2014, and re-promulgated two more times. Modi announced his decision to “drop” it ahead of the crucial Bihar assembly polls late last year, in which the BJP faced a major defeat.
In its order dated June 20, 2016, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has asked the Union Ministry of Rural Development’s department of land resources (DoLR) to disclose everything that would reveal government view on coming up with the ordnance, which had sought to undermine the crucial consent clause for land acquisition, even as seeking to remove the provision of social impact assessment ahead of any land acquisition.
Instead of providing all the material the ministry said it “did not have” details, and sent the right to information (RTI) application, made by well-known RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak, to the ministry of parliamentary affairs. Nayak is programme coordinator of the Access to Information Programme of New Delhi-based advocacy group Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.
In a bid to avoid reply, the RTI application was twice sent to the President's Secretariat, as the ordinance was promulgated by the President of India. This happened despite the fact that the Rashtrapati Bhawan had transferred it to the DoLR at the very first instance.
The CIC, in its order, has asked the the DoLR to disclose all information within 4 weeks. Pointing towards the reason why he had sought the information, Nayak said, “Although the ordinance has lapsed its contents are before Parliament in the form of a Bill to amend the Act which is being deliberated upon by a Joint Committee of Parliament chaired by SS Ahluwalia.”
Nayak said, despite demands, the government did not bother to explain what was the urgency that led to the promulgation of the ordinance. “Parliament's winter session had concluded just a few days earlier and the budget session of 2015 was just a couple of months away when the ordinance was promulgated on the last day of 2014”, he added.
Finally, Nayak said, the government’s Economic Survey (ES), presented in Parliament in February 2015, “claimed that problems with land acquisition were a major reason for the stalling of several developmental projects in the public and private sector.”
“However”, he added, “Detailed data on such projects was not annexed to that report. Official spokespersons repeatedly argued that the amendments to the land acquisition law were necessary to pull up the economy out of the nadir it had reached.” This, he added, prompted him to find out whether this was true.
An analysis of the government’s own data, said Nayak, had already showed that that “only about 8% of the projects had stalled due to problems of land acquisition.” The factors which were more important for stalling projects were “lack of promoter interest, weak economic conditions and lack of necessary clearances from authorities”, he added.

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