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With Land Acquisition Act, 2013, pace of land grab has increased vastly: Top Chhattisgarh legal rights NGO

By Our Representative
In a surprise note, the Janhit Peoples' Legal Resource Centre in Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh, which seeks to provide legal aid to peoples' movements, village committees, NGOs, and trade unions, has qualified the 2013 Land Acquisition Act (LAA) as providing only "notional protection", insisting that for people the only benefit it provides is the "right to register objections..."
In the section "From a colonial Land Acquisition Act to even worse?", the note says, the British law actually distinguished between acquisition for public purpose and acquisition for companies, but LAA -- even as seeking compliance with a rehabilitation policy -- in practice presumes that "acquisition for a company is an acquisition for public purpose."
Based on ground level experiences, the note, it is claimed, has been prepared on the basis experiences on about how the legal framework is sought to be legitimized, instead of any academic study of the law.
The note says, while there has been "widespread displacement, shockingly inadequate rehabilitation and compensation" over the last one decade, whether it is the sponge-iron belt of Raipur, the cement belt between Raipur and Bilaspur, the coal mines of Koriya, bauxite mines of Sarguja, the power plants of Korba, or the "Jindal-land" Raigarh, "now the pace and extent of land grab has increased vastly."
According to the note, things have reached the point where not an inch of largely tribal Jashpur is left unaffected by prospecting and mining licenses; 34 power plants are coming up in the district Janjgir; and 7 cement plants are xoming up in the newly formed district of Baloda Bazar where units of multinationals Holcim and Lafarge and of the Birla group Ultratech, Grasim and Century are situated.
Pointing out that Section 17, which is the urgency clause, is invoked "whenever the state perceives a resistance to acquisition from people, has become common in Chhattisgarh", the note, prepared by well-known human rights lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, says, even the mandatory consultation under Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) with Gram Sabha "is violated with impunity."
Quoting an analysis it had done before LAA was passed, the note says, although the Bill, when it was proposed, was brought on the anvil ostensibly because of the fierce countrywide resistance of the peasantry against land acquisition, far from addressing any of the serious legal issues, it actually ended up facilitating corporate land grab.
Pointing out that the LAA gives "an arbitrary license to acquire up to 5% of multi crop irrigated land without assessing projects in terms of their impact on food security", the note says, adding, it has "a hand-picked state level committee consisting almost entirely of bureaucrats makes all decisions."
"A social impact assessment (SIA) is to be done, but who will do it, and how, is unclear", the note says, adding, "In fact the SIA is a mirror image of the discredited environment impact assessment (EIA) process, which Jairam Ramesh himself described as a farce. The SIA can neither consider rehabilitation plan, nor whether the project is the least displacing alternative, nor the question of public purpose, yet the state level committee is supposed to decide all this."
It further says, "Various public hearings and gram sabha consultations are suggested, but these are a mere formality; the views raised in them are not given any importance subsequently", adding, "The definition of public purpose has been widened even further so that real estate is exempt from 80% consent by the phrase 'any site in the urban area'.”
"Projects that are in "public interest' (which is not defined) or that 'produce goods or services for the public' become public purpose", it states, adding, LAA, in fact, "contradicts itself by first declaring that no change of purpose will be permitted; and then reverting unutilised land to the government 'land bank'. What is this if not a change of purpose? This is an incentive to acquire large tracts of land on plausible grounds and hold them for later use."
Pointing out that after "grandly stating" that this law would create a new, just process of acquisition, the note says, LAA's clauses actually exempt a whole range of activities -- SEZs, coal mines, highways, uranium mines, railways etc. "This is at a time when SEZs and mines have been sites of bloody, violent conflict across the country”, the note insists.

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