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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Land Acquisition – Parties must grow up
- Dr Jayaprakash Narayan
The LARR Act and the proposed amendments have raised a huge debate. We need to find a rational, balanced approach based on evidence and our aspirations to rise as an economic giant. For decades, the farmers have been displaced and impoverished through expropriatory, inequitous, unjust legal provisions. Countless farmers paid a heavy price for others to prosper. Now, with LARR Act, the pendulum has swung to the other extreme. All land use for non-agricultural purpose is now regarded as sinful ! Let us look at four few contentious provisions of law and see how we can arrive at a fair reconciliation of differing viewpoints.
First, mandatory consent of 70 – 80% affected families’ makes it virtually impossible to acquire land. Please note: it is not consent of land-owners; it is all ‘affected’ families. Clearly, projects that are location-specific – rail lines, ports, roads, power lines, reservoirs etc – cannot be held up for want of consent. All such cases should be exempt from consent requirement. Also, consent should be that of land owners, not an amorphous group of “affected families”. And subject to these two changes, consent of owners of 50% of project land should suffice.
Second anomaly is in determination of compensation. Under Section 26, market value is the highest of a) registered sale deeds, b) average sale price in neighbouring areas and c) consented amount in case of private acquisitions. The actual compensation including solatium may be upto four times the market value. Consented amount normally reflects the best price farmer is seeking and market can bear, including premium paid for speed and avoidance of litigation. By making consent amount the market value, and providing for four times that as compensation, the law makes acquisition costs absurdly high. Either consented amount should be the compensation by mutual consent, or market value should be based on registered sale deeds.
Third, social impact assessment is a needless delaying mechanism typical of license-permit raj, hurting both the farmer and entrepreneur. Where environmental impact assessment is needed, that should suffice. In all other cases, the collector / land acquisition authority can determine by due process those who are affected and the compensation they are entitled to by law.
Finally, land acquisition is a concurrent subject under item 42 of list III of Seventh Schedule. The Constitution provided for state legislation on concurrent subjects, subject to President’s assent. Section 107 of LARR act imposes restrictions on States’ legislative power beyond provisions of the Constitution, and is both redundant and unconstitutional. Section 107 can be repealed, and States can be encouraged to make laws to suit their policies and local requirements.
As a nation, we need to respond to emerging challenges. It is vital that land as a factor of production is available for the growth of industry and services and generation of employment. At the same time it is imperative and just to ensure that the land-loser is better off after land acquisition than before. We need a fair and balanced reconciliation of both objectives. The 1894 Act ignored farmers’ interests. LARR Act ignores India’s economic needs and job creation. Parties must grow up and find win-win solution.
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2nd April, 2015