The utter futility of land ordinance

Repeated brought in with urgency, it has not been used even once in acquiring land

GN Bureau | July 31, 2015


#land bill   #land ordinance   #land bill venkatesh nayak   #venkatesh nayak  

The land acquisition ordinance has been the single most controversial legislative move of the Modi government, but it has not been used even once in six months, shows a study.

A Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative team led by Venkatesh Nayak went through gazette notifications from January 1 (when the ordinance was first promulgated) to June 30 show that every time a central ministry acquired land, it did so under a sector-specific law and not under the ordinance.

This finding not only goes against the government’s argument of urgency – the sole justification for an ordinance – but also against the very utility of the ordinance, which amends the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (RFCTLARR) Act – the land law passed during the UPA time with the full support of the NDA.

In a widely circulated email, Nayak clarifies, “This study is not about questioning the decisions of government to implement developmental projects and acquire land for such purposes. The purpose of this research is to enable lawmakers, policymakers, civil society actors, academia, the media, and farmers' groups to debate the manner in which land is being acquired for public purposes since January 2015 and debate how best the RFCTLARR Act may be implemented with or without amendments.”

Also, Nayak argues for more awareness about the provisions of the land law. Citing the example of the recent meeting of the PM and chief ministers, he writes, “There has been some debate recently about allowing states the freedom to enact their own land acquisition laws or policies. I believe Section 107 of the RFCTLARR recognises the power of states to enact their own laws or institute their own policies for providing better compensation or for making more beneficial provisions for resettlement and rehabilitation.”

 
The study

The study covered 505 gazette notifications of ministries and public authorities under the central government declaring: (a) Intent to acquire land for “public purpose”; (b) The competent authority for the purpose of land acquisition; and (c)  That they have acquired the land for the public purpose declared in the intent.

 
Preliminary findings

(1) The study indicates that only the ministries of road transport and highways, railways, coal and petroleum and natural gas have acquired land for “public purpose” during  January 1–June 30, 2015. There have been 219 such notifications published in the gazette during the period.

 
(2) This study does not reveal any instance of the use of the RFCTLARR Act by these ministries for the purpose of acquiring land for developmental projects. All 219 acquisitions have been made under the sector-specific land acquisition laws administered by each ministry.

 
(3) The ministries have acquired land only for the purpose of building new highways or widening existing ones; prospecting or actually mining for coal; laying down railway tracks (segments of the Eastern and Western Dedicated Freight Corridors amongst others) and pipelines for transporting petroleum, natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

 
(4) Land has been acquired by these four ministries in 1,584 villages situated in at least 263 talukas in 141 districts across 22 states.

 
(5) Two of the developmental projects are in Schedule V areas (inhabited by members of scheduled tribes) in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. According to Section 41 of the RFCTLARR Act, land may be acquired in a Scheduled Area only as a last resort and that too after obtaining prior consent of the Gram Sabha or the panchayat. Nothing in the gazette notifications studied mentions details of such a process having been undertaken prior to the acquisition of land.

 
(6) None of the notifications indicates that land has been acquired by any ministry under for defence purposes or rural electrification or affordable housing or housing for the poor – “special categories of public purposes” for which the appropriate governments may waive the requirement for doing SIAs and the subsequent procedures.  These exceptions were introduced into the RFCTLARR Act through the ordinances.

 
(7) A large number of segments of land acquired are wetland or irrigated agricultural plots.

 
(8) The ministries of railways, road transport and highways, coal, petroleum and natural gas and the metro railway issued 274 gazette notifications declaring their intention to acquire land for various developmental projects in more than 2,320 villages in more than 403 talukas in 157 districts across 21 states (see Table 4). The process of land acquisition is still going on in these projects.

 

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