The all-party meeting on the Land Acquisition Bill concluded today with the BJP agreeing to back the bill. The bill is now likely to be tabled in the second half of the Budget Session of Parliament beginning Monday. "We have reached a broad consensus on the Land Acquisition Bill," Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath and Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj said after the all-party meeting.
The government agreed to a key demand of the BJP, which had suggested that instead of acquisition, the land could be leased to developers so that its ownership will remain with the farmers and would provide them with regular annual income. Another key change that the government has agreed to is one that will allow states to enact their own law, as leasing of land is a state subject.
Opposition parties have previously expressed displeasure over the compensation provisions in the draft bill. They say the compensation is insufficient, and are in favour of proving permanent livelihood to those who lose their land.
The BJP, at today's meeting, also pointed at the sudden spurt in cheap property purchases after the last cabinet meeting on the land bill held on September 5, 2011. Property was purchased at dirt-cheap rates only to be given away later in return for hefty compensation, they said. The BJP asked the government to set September 5, 2011 as the cut-off date. It also said that in case the government has made any acquisition after this date, then it should share the benefits with the farmers at 50-50. The government may consider including this provision in the bill. According to the provisions of the bill, land owners have to be paid twice the market rate in case the acquisition is made in an urban area. For rural areas, this value goes up to four times.
Another provision that the government may consider is providing compensation and rehabilitation & resettlement (R&R) to everyone who is dependent on the land being acquired for a living, and not just the land owner. According to the existing draft, compensation and R&R were to be given only to the land owner, while others who were dependent on that land for a living were to get only R&R. Though the government may not include this in the draft itself, it may ask individual states to consider the provision.
Political parties were not the only ones opposing the Bill. The industry, too, has its own set of problems, the major one being a consent clause.
Corporates fear that high consent rates will make acquisitions very difficult. According to the provisions, 80 per cent of the displaced people would have to give their consent in case of private acquisitions, while in case of government and public-private partnership projects, this number stands at 70 per cent.
Another important point of contention is the acquisition of land for uses other than "public purpose". Industry body Assocham has sought a provision according to which in case 75 per cent of land has already been acquired for a project, then the company can seek assistance from the appropriate government for acquiring the remaining 25 per cent. According to the industry body, there are some "social and political miscreants" due to which it becomes difficult to procure the remaining part of the land.
Provisions of the draft bill apply only when the government is making acquisitions for itself or for private companies for "public purpose". This implies that in case the acquisition is not for a public purpose but only for a corporate project, the company will have to directly deal with the landowners through private negotiations. It is here that the land mafia comes into play. Since private projects, especially those related to the auto industry, metals, fertilizer, etc, require the acquisition of large tracts of land, dealing with several landowners independently is likely to stall projects for a long time.
Real estate developers are of the opinion that while the bill protects the rights of the farmers, "the interests of the middle-class have been totally ignored". They contend that the cost of the land will go up by 60-80 per cent because of the compensation clause, and this would in turn lead to an increase in the price of the houses. This was backed by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), which said: "While CII is absolutely in favour of appropriate and adequate compensation for people who are affected by land acquisition, we believe that the costs have to be reasonable for industry to remain viable."