Deferring Land Bill a wise decision
by Sandhya Jain on 28 Jul 2015 18 Comments

Given the sharp and rising levels of agrarian distress in the country, the Centre has been wise not to press the land acquisition bill in the monsoon session (likely to be a washout unless the Speaker suspends the disruptive MPs) and to wait for the report of the joint panel. Over 650 farmer organisations and leaders have opposed The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Second Amendment) Bill, 2015, in its current form.


Some measure of the collapsing agrarian economy can be discerned in the Patel community’s demand for reservations via inclusion in the OBC list. A rally by the Patidar Anamat Samiti at Visnagar, Mehsana district, Gujarat, on July 23 turned violent, forcing police to use teargas to restore order. The organisers claimed the violence was the handiwork of participants from the “Sardar Patel group” from Kheda district.


Agrarian unrest is a largely ignored chapter of our freedom struggle and subsequent evolution of our polity. Yet Vallabhbhai Patel earned the title ‘Sardar’ when, in 1918, he organised the farmers of Kheda to resist paying tax after floods ravaged the area, and forced the British to return the lands confiscated thereafter. In 1928, he helped Bardoli farmers resist a tax hike and recover their seized lands.


Sir Chhotu Ram, leader of the Jat peasantry of undivided Punjab, is underrated though he founded the Unionist Party with Sir Sikander Hyat Khan and did much to improve the lot of farmers. He staunchly opposed Pakistan and advocated recruitment of peasants, especially Jats, into the Army during both World Wars. Chaudhari Charan Singh is best known for his role in the drafting and passage of revolutionary land reforms, notably zamindari abolition, in Uttar Pradesh in the 1950s; and later in 1959 when he opposed Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s collectivist land policies at the Congress’s Nagpur session.


Independent India has viewed agriculture with disdain, treating it as a handmaiden of industry rather than as the foundation of the nation and economy. It defies logic that despite non-performing assets of Rs 25 lakh crore crippling the banking sector, successive governments uphold industry as the sole path to growth. This warped thinking has produced the current stalemate over the land acquisition bill. Not surprisingly, the bill has been welcomed only by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and Confederation of Indian Industries.


As industry demands exemption from the five-year clause during which acquired land must be utilised or returned to the farmer (otherwise this would lead to creation of land banks for profiteering by changing land use), it is pertinent to examine the experience with Special Economic Zones (SEZs). Since no land has been acquired under the Act of 2013 due to alleged difficulties in acquisition (it was passed in unseemly haste before the elections with Congress rhetoric making it difficult to resist), and is under amendment, the experience with the previous legislation is germane.


Parliament approved the Special Economic Zones Bill in just two days in May 2005, to create export-oriented enclaves, which were given tax and duty concessions. Instead of targeted incentives for specific industries, the new law imposed no ceiling on the numbers and sizes of the SEZs and offered blanket concessions, covering mining, agriculture, manufacturing and services. By April 2011, 584 SEZs were ‘formally approved’ (with 377 ‘notified’ to begin operations), as against 366 formally approved (and 142 notified) in August 2007.


By 2007, fierce resistance to SEZs broke out across the country from farmers’ and citizens’ groups. This climaxed in the Nandigram (West Bengal) police firing in March 2007, in which 14 persons died while resisting acquisition of 25,000 acres for the Indonesian Salim SEZ. The violence escalated in November 2007, forcing the state government to move the SEZ out of the area. In 2008, the Tata Nano project pulled out of Singur. In Goa, besieged by pervasive protests, Chief Minister Digambar Kamat cancelled all 15 SEZs in December 2007. By November 2009, the Mumbai SEZ failed to secure even a quarter of the 11,300 hectares of land ‘approved’ for it, and officially ceased operations.


The 2014 report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) found that SEZs established before the SEZ Act 2005 were successful. But from 2005 onwards, 52 per cent of land approved for allotment to SEZs was idle. The SEZs failed to make any worthwhile impact on economic growth, trade, infrastructure, investment or employment. Over 56.64 per cent were earmarked for the IT/ITES sector and only 9.6 per cent for manufacturing.


The CAG noted while promoters demanded allotment of huge areas, they notified only a fraction as SEZs, even de-notifying SEZ land to benefit from price appreciation – which triggered the backlash. In six states, 14 per cent of SEZ land was diverted for commercial purposes (real estate). Hence, the SEZ Board of Approval (BoA) discontinued forcible land acquisition.


Now, the Government needs land, with private partnership, for Make in India, Smart Cities, Economic Corridors; hence the proposed amendments to the 2013 legislation. Given the parliamentary stalemate, some suggest that States be allowed to frame their own laws. Others contend that since land is on the Concurrent List, there should be a common law or people will be cheated.


Farmers want the consent clause and clarity on the quantum of compensation. While Minister of Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari, claims his ministry is giving four times the market value for land acquired for highways, the governments of Haryana and Rajasthan are giving 1.25 times as compensation and 1.25 times as solatium (total 2.5 times) as the Bill provides for two to four times of market value as compensation.


Experts say the Centre should prepare a national land use plan for 2050, reserving land for agriculture and food security, a practice in all developed nations. Thereafter, clusters could be earmarked in each district for industrial development including infrastructure, institutions, commercial enterprises, and residential areas. The task can be completed in six months.


Thereafter, those wanting to buy land for industry, schools or housing can go to the designated area and buy land directly. This will curb artificial booms as States will not be able to change land use – a major source of corruption. Development will be faster as the system of case by case permission ends, and sensitive ecological zones will be protected from encroachment. Above all, the State will not be seen as hand-in-glove with private capital, to the detriment of the common man.    

User Comments Post a Comment

Back to Top