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A Critique Of Land Acquisition Bill 2011

By Chitra.K.P

30 August, 2011

A note on Draft Land Acquisition and Resettlement & Rehabilitation Bill 2011

Dr. Jairam Ramesh in his forward to the Draft National Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation & Resettlement bill 2011 makes no attempt to hide the obvious priority of the state to use land for industrialization and urbanization than for agriculture purposes. The need for balance is cited as one reason for the formulation of a new law. But the mentioned balance is not between the need for ecological or food security and the need for industrialization which would have been a more ideal position.

The preamble to the Bill says ‘A Draft Bill to balance the need for facilitating land acquisition for industrialisation, development of essential infrastructure facilities and urbanisation, while at the same time to meaningfully address the concerns of farmers and those whose livelihoods are dependent on the land being acquired'. While the ultimate end of land use here is specified as a matter of public purpose the present function of the land as meeting the public purpose of food security is diluted to highlight it merely as a social concern of the farmers. The issue is dealt as a case that can be solved through monetary compensation. Only the social security aspect of the farmers is focused here, though not completely, while the ecological and food security aspects remain in the dark.

The preamble also claims that the draft bill aims to mitigate the adverse impacts on habitats and is sensitive to the natural resource base. But the claim is not reflected in the clauses that follow. It also speaks about ensuring a humane, participatory, informed, consultative and transparent process of land acquisition and the realization of a stage in which the affected persons become partners in development. It is true that the draft policy does have indications of being more humane, participatory, consultative and transparent compared to the existing law. The issues raised here is to highlight how much more humane, participatory, consultative and transparent it can aspire to be. While appreciating the concept of partnership in development, the note also attempts to highlight the nature of development envisaged by the policy makers and the extent of partnership offered to the stakeholders concerned.

Many media reports and statements of the political leaders appreciate the new draft saying it seeks 80% consent of the project affected before acquisition, provision of resettlement and rehabilitation to the direct and indirect evictees with several benefits, twice and six times the market price respectively in urban and rural areas, special allowances for the Scheduled Tribes, refrain from acquiring any irrigated multi-crop land etc. They are true to an extent, but does not embody the whole truth. The present write-up aims to throw light into the partial truths which are highlighted as the major features of the new policy while explaining the inner dynamics of a complex process like land acquisition. It also seeks to see how the state tends to withdraw its power in some areas while exerting more power in certain aspects. The contradiction here is that power is not exerted where it is required but in those spaces which makes the state more authoritative.

The attempt made in this note is to assess the draft LAA&RR Bill in the context of research experience on the land acquisition processes for industrial and infrastructure projects in Kerala. The examples of two land acquisition cases in Kerala are cited to substantiate the arguments but the points raised are more or less applicable in the national level as well. The cases are given only to show how a uniform policy without considering regional peculiarities can affect a state in particular. One of the cases referred to is the land acquisition for Rail and Road connectivity to Vallarpadam Container Terminal Project in Cochin and other is the land acquisition taking place now for an Industrial Park for KINFRA in the northern part of the Ernakulam District. Both acquisition deal with eviction of settlements and conversion of agricultural wetlands and have met with people's struggles against acquisition and for proper compensation for the land being acquired.

Positive elements of the Draft policy at a glance

•  Drive towards a national law to provide for the resettlement, rehabilitation and compensation towards loss of livelihoods

•  Combining R&R and Land acquisition laws than treating them separately as different entities

•  Public purpose once stated cannot be changed in the case of private companies

•  Urgency clause initiated only for strategic purposes and cases of natural calamity and in ‘rarest of rare' instances which is a good attempt though the term still appears to be vague

•  Offer of various resettlement and rehabilitation benefits and monetary compensation for the land lost

•  The policy advocates that about 25 infrastructural amenities should be provided in the resettlement area which include Schools and playgrounds, Health Centres, Roads, electric connections and drainage, Irrigation and transportation facilities, Sanitation facilities, Assured sources of safe drinking water for each family and cattle, Anganwady, Places of worship and burial and/or cremation ground, Fair price shops and seed-cum-fertilizer storage facilities, Grazing land, One community centre for every 100 families etc

•  Compliance with laws like The Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, Land Transfer Regulations in Schedule V Areas which ensure that the local Panchayat and the Tribal population have their say in matters regarding land acquisition. The only question is whether the Grama Panchayats in general areas will have a stake in the land acquisition process.

•  Formation of LA&RR Dispute settlement authority in the National and state level; Formation of State Commissioner for RR and RR committee at the project level – The institutional setup highlights the increased significance of RR

•  Return of land to original owner if not used in 5 years for the purpose for which it is acquired with one-fourth of the award amount for the land acquired

•  The questions sought in the SIA like, whether extent of land proposed for acquisition is the absolute bare-minimum extent needed for the project; whether less or non-displacing alternatives not technically or geographically available significant in the process of land acquisition

•  Multidisciplinary expert group to assess the SIA and public purpose, consisting of two non-official social scientists, two experts on rehabilitation and a technical expert related to the project

•  Collector of the district, where the acquisition of land is proposed, should explore the possibilities of utilising waste, degraded, barren lands and that the agricultural land, especially land under assured irrigation is being acquired only as a last resort

•  No notification shall be issued unless the concerned Gram Sabha at the village level and equivalent forum in Urban Local Bodies, as the case may be, or Autonomous Councils in the Sixth Schedule Areas have been consulted in all cases of land acquisition

•  If a Notification is not issued within six months from the date of appraisal of the Social Impact Assessment report by the Expert Committee then the same shall be deemed to have lapsed and a fresh Social Impact Assessment will have to be undertaken

•  Acquisition would not be done in part of the house or building if owner desires that the whole of the building is acquired.

Defining public purpose

The ambiguity of the term ‘public purpose' continues to exist in the present draft policy. Or rather it is exactly this ambiguity which is made use of by the State as a weapon to justify any act of land acquisition. The following categories are considered as public purpose – Strategic purposes, Infrastructure and Industry, Land acquired for R&R purposes, Development of village or urban sites for residential, health and education purposes, Land for private companies for public purpose and needs arising from natural calamities. Out of this, categories like Infrastructure and Industry and land for private companies for public purpose can be really misused. These are often passed off as public purpose initiatives by offering employment opportunities to the locals and highlighting regional development. But cases like Cochin International Airport Ltd with very low state Government share, where Golf course and multiplexes are being built in the agricultural land acquired in the name of the airport and the Smart City in Cochin (IT park) where only 50 % of acquired land need to be used for industrial purposes show how land acquired in the name of public purpose and with public money is exploited for private interests. In the present ambit anything and everything can be defined as public purpose and it is very much possible that private firms would make undue gain out of the situation.

Further acquisition for public purpose doesn't address any kind of public concern for environmental imbalance arising out of the process. The Vallarpadam land acquisition for rail and road connectivity saw the conversion of a good extent of wetlands, paddy fields, river and backwater in the name of public purpose. The KINFRA acquisition also envisages the taking over for public purpose, predominantly wetlands which are significant in ecological and agricultural terms. Also land acquisition for R&R is defined as public purpose. What is not mentioned is whether the land acquired and converted in the name of public purpose may defy the same public by destroying the ecological security of the region. A classic example is the rehabilitation plots provided to the Vallarpadam rail and road evictees. All the rehabilitation plots allotted to the evictees were portions of river, backwater, wetlands and paddy fields which fall in the Coastal Regulation Zone and were developed through reclamation using loads of laterite soil.

Also the public purpose cited while Government acquires the land can be changed if required. This could be misused for meeting private interests later if there is no integrated departmental monitoring system to assess the utilization of land.

People's consent for acquisition

The draft bill states that the land acquisition can take place only if 80 % of the project affected families give consent to the proposed acquisition. Though it is an appreciable and revolutionary decision if implemented genuinely, fact is that this is applicable only for those acquisitions where land is being acquired for private companies for immediate use or end use. The consent of the project affected families doesn't count when Government acquires land for its own use, hold and control. This decision is in complete negation of the people's right to informed consent when the situation is that majority of the land acquisitions still take place for state sponsored projects, especially in Kerala.

Another dangerous argument that is put forward by the Rural Development Minister in his forward is that ‘The issue of who acquires land is less important than the process of land acquisition, compensation for land acquired and the R&R process, package and conditions'. It is specifically mentioned in the note that private companies can directly buy land from farmers and others. R&R package is offered to the people whose lands are bought by the private firms with the partial support of the state or if hundred or more acres are acquired. But the package is not mandatory in those cases where land is directly purchased by private firms and if the extent of land fall below 100 acres. How the consent of the people is gained by the private firms in such cases is highly debatable. Also it conveniently forgets the sub-transactions that may happen in the locale in connection with the development project that is coming in, the consequent rocketing of prices and the resultant land inequality that may ensue in the area. The Kadamakkudy and Mulavukad villages coming under the road connectivity for Vallarpadam project saw many of its local farmers selling off wetlands at throw away prices to big private firms even before the project notification came in. They were lured by the quick money which was high when compared to the market prices at that time but was negligible when compared to the prices after the project initiation. They were in a way forced to sell their land out of ignorance or sudden family needs like marriage or health treatment. Now bulk of the land in these villages is vested with outsiders than the locals. Also, the draft policy keeps silent about a situation in which less than 100 acres is acquired by a private firm, but which may affect more than 100 families. This is not an exaggeration in the context of Kerala which is densely populated. How will the state know the consent of these people to such an acquisition? Are they being coerced into selling their land out of want or ignorance? Are the private firms using force by any means? How is the land price fixed? Are they able to purchase another piece of land with the money they get? Does the land which is being sold have ecological and productive use for the society? Who will monitor those aspects? Though it may be argued that the people are vested with the selling power, it is not mandatory that they use it for their own benefit always due to financial and social pressures.

The draft bill also speaks about the various combinations that can be worked out in state and private land acquisitions but remains silent about the variations in compensation that may come up even within the same district when different private and public agencies are involved in acquiring the land. The results could be further confusion and conflicts in the land acquisition process in the region and instead of smoothening it as envisaged by the policy.

The procedural errors

The draft policy mandates that Social Impact Assessment should be done by the appropriate Government in the Pre-notification stage and should be examined by independent multi-disciplinary expert group. Also the legitimacy of the ‘public purpose' and the SIA have to be approved by the Government approved committee. The R&R scheme has to be finalized within 6 months of the preliminary notification. But public hearing comes only in the Notification stage after Preliminary notification is published. After which the Draft Declaration and R&R scheme is published and Awards given. Though the process do have positive elements like checking the legitimacy of the public purpose given and conducting the SIA, it would no less terminate or reduce the issues that is generated during a land acquisition process today.

The main flaw in the process is the reduction of the concept of land to a social entity devoid of its ecological and productive properties. Though the draft says that the environmental costs, benefits and impacts are to be included in the report the focus of the SIA as detailed in the policy has its focus on socio-economic and institutional impacts. The draft says that the SIA report will be made available when EIA is conducted in a later stage. What calls for is a multi-impact assessment, including environmental impacts, food security impacts, livelihood impacts, institutional impacts and other social impacts in the context of large scale acquisition of agricultural lands, wetlands and forest lands happening in the country. The significance of Environment impact assessment before acquiring a wetland in Kerala is not negligible considering the aspects of water conservation, food security and ecological balance. But as per the present laws of the state, EIA is not mandatory before land acquisition and need to be conducted only once the land is acquired and reclaimed and is made fit for industry. The issue here is of reducing a larger ecological concern of wetland destruction to cases of air and water pollution that any industry may bring about. The Pollution Control Board which comes to the scene in a later stage of the play acts merely as a licensing agency for the industry to function.

The appropriate Government has the power to exempt undertaking the SIA study if the project comes under urgency clause under section 30 of the Act and the SIA is mandatory only if the acquisition is for 100 or more acres of land, both of these which question the veracity of the whole idea. In the case of land acquisition for the road connectivity for Vallarpadam, though the extent of land acquired is comparatively less (slightly above 100 acres) the social and environmental impact created by the 15 km road is very high. The road construction saw large scale reclamation of Pokkali lands and backwaters through which it passed. Again the land areas in proximity to the road were subjected to large scale real estate transactions which further increased the reclamation of wetlands in the area. In addition to this is the reclamation of wetlands and paddy fields caused by dumping of piling wastes by the road construction company and further conversion of paddy fields, wetlands and backwaters even for rehabilitation of the evictees under the coordination of the District Administration. Added to this are the socio-environmental issues in the crusher and quarry sites granted exclusively for the Vallarpadam project to private firms. An EIA was done for the NH connectivity to Vallarpadam before acquisition, to be fair, but the rather amusing thing is that the agency which did the EIA was the same one who prepared the Detailed Project Report for the project. No big imagination is needed to assess the genuineness of the report in this case. In par with the Pollution control Board definition of environmental issues, the report highlights just the air and water pollution issues that may arise during the road construction and refrains from detailing the greater issues that may arise in the locale from large scale conversion of wetlands.

Another error is the conduct of the public hearing towards the end of the process, even after the R&R scheme is formulated. Public hearing is the platform where the local people are supposed to get a say towards the acquisition process and present their apprehensions or approval regarding the project. Conducting the hearing towards the end of the process is only a mockery of the people's right to have their voice heard and reduces it to one among the many administrative steps to be completed before LA. Separating the concept of Public Hearing from SIA is in itself a procedural error. The draft policy states that any person affected by the preliminary notification can ‘ object to the extent and choice of land proposed to be acquired, justification offered for public purpose, the findings of the Social Impact Assessment report ' which raises questions on the extent of participation of the people in the formulation of the SIA report. How far the dissent at this stage can stand up against any forcible acquisition is arguable since the draft policy states that ‘the decision of the Appropriate Government on the objections shall be final'.

Another issue is that even in the new draft policy the state is not bound to transfer the RR benefits and compensation to the evictees before the land is taken over. It is written that the every family covered under the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Award of the Collector shall be given family wise proceedings indicating

‘( a) Rehabilitation and Resettlement amount payable to the family and the bank account number of the person to which the Rehabilitation and Resettlement award amount is to be transferred

(b) Particulars of house site and house to be allotted, in case of displaced families

(c) Particulars of Land allotted to the displaced families

(d) Particulars of one time subsistence allowance, transportation allowance in case of

displaced families etc…. ' which means that only a note of promise is given and not the actual benefits before possession. The power to take possession is vested with the Collector upon ensuring ‘ full payment of compensation as well as rehabilitation and resettlement entitlements are paid or tendered to the entitled persons within a period of three months for the compensation and a period of six months for the rehabilitation and resettlement entitlements commencing from the date of the award under section 18' . This indicates that the ongoing story of eviction without resettlement and compensation will continue to happen. Further the passing of Award need not be done in cases of Urgency in which the Government can take possession within 15 days of the notification under Section 9, though it is said that the Collector shall pay up to 80% of the compensation before taking over, which is again not mandatory. The cases of urgency is restricted to the ‘minimum area required for the defense of India or national security or for any emergencies arising out of natural calamities' and is specially mentioned that it should be applied only in ‘rarest of rare' cases. Also in cases of urgency it is not mandatory that the SIA and evaluation of public purpose is done.

Shortcomings in the provision of resettlement and rehabilitation

The draft policy mentions that the provision of resettlement and rehabilitation will apply only when ‘1. Private companies buy land, equal to or more than 100 acres, on their own; 2. Private company approaches Government for partial acquisition for public purpose'. While it is a good attempt to ensure R&R to people in the case of large scale evictions, the application of a standard norm across the country in terms of extent of land rather than the density of population can be a risky affair.

In a state like Kerala which is densely populated, acquisition of even 10 acres of land may lead to the eviction of a considerable number of families. To cite an example when around 14 acres of land was acquired for the rail connectivity to the Vallarpadam Terminal Project in Cochin 143 families were evicted. Similarly acquisition of about 108 acres of land across 7 villages (only slightly higher than 100 acres) for the road connectivity to Vallarpadam saw the eviction of 326 families. In this context offering resettlement and rehabilitation benefits only if 100 acres of land or more is bought can be disastrous to the people affected. Also it is a probability that two or more private entities may come together and buy land separately keeping the land ceiling of 100 acres intact and use it finally for the same project. There is ambiguity regarding the R&R of the people evicted in this situation. Further there is no mention of additional acquisitions which is usual in the case of development projects where the notification for acquisition is issued in different stages as the work progress. The cumulative increase in the acreage and the resultant eviction is out of the R&R loop. Even in the case of the NH connectivity to Vallarpadam the families coming under additional acquisition was denied the rehabilitation benefits offered to the families in the first notification inspite of the High Court order that all the evictees were eligible for rehabilitation.

There is no offer for replacement land in the new draft policy also though it is mentioned that if house is lost, a constructed house of plinth area of 150 sq mts of house site in rural areas or 50 sq mts plinth area in urban areas would be given. Converted to cents the extent of land coming in the plinth area offered is just around 3.70 cents and 1.23 cents respectively in rural and urban areas which is quite negligible. If the family opts out of the benefit of a constructed house they will be offered an amount not less than 1.5 lakhs. The said benefit will only lead to the increase in number of resettlement colonies and not independent land for the evictee which is a rightful demand. The gravity of this issue will become clear only when the nuclear families coming within the evictee family are also taken into consideration. It is not clear in the draft policy whether nuclear families within the affected family will be provided with the said benefits in the context of the clause that ‘no family affected by acquisition shall be given more than one house under the provisions of this Act'. Again the provision of infrastructural amenities in the resettlement area is mandatory only if more than hundred families are displaced which is another issue altogether.

Land for land lost is offered only in cases for acquisition for irrigation projects, in which the farmer is offered a minimum of 1 acre in the command area of the project. This is not applicable in the case of acquisition of agricultural for industrial, infrastructural or mining projects which are considerably high in number in the present context. The agricultural land lost in such cases is not counted for. The acquisition of Pokkali land for Vallarpadam or the notification of agricultural land for KINFRA doesn't take into account the agricultural economy of the area and financial security of the farmers residing within. The argument that agriculture is in loss is not valid enough to allow the conversion of all the agricultural lands for industrial and infrastructural purposes.

Only those belonging to the Scheduled tribes are offered land in every project irrespective of its nature. This suitably negates the rights of others, especially the financially backward classes and the marginalized for land.

Fixing the Compensation

The compensation will be fixed from the average of the sale price for fifty percent of the sale deeds in the preceding 3 years. The market value so calculated will be multiplied by three in rural areas to which the value of assets will be added together which will make the total compensation. A solatium of 100% will be added to this. In effect the compensation in rural areas will become six times the calculated market value and in cities twice the market value. While the calculation seem to be appreciable it can be misleading since the price quoted in the sale deeds are most often low to evade the stamp duty during the transactions. The issue is said to be addressed to an extent by the Fair Pricing of land in all the districts in Kerala and the reduction of stamp duty, surcharge and registration fee under the Kerala Stamp (Amendment) Bill, 2010. The reduction of the rates is from 15.5% to 11% in Corporation areas; in Municipality / Township / Cantonment areas from 14.5% to 10%; and in Grama Panchayath from 12% to 9%. But even this need not ensure the real quote of price during transactions. Also it falls short of assessing the speculative price rise with an impending development project in the locality. As per the draft policy the Award needs to be made only within two years from the date of publication of the declaration under Section 9. Adding the 3 year period, the transactions of which are considered to fix the market price of the land for compensation, to the two year period that the Government takes to pass the Award, the almost five year gap that comes in can be crucial in increasing the market price of the land. The rocketing of prices at the initiation of a development project in the area also needs to be considered in this situation. Added to this is the time gap between the publication of notification and distribution of the Award due to red tapism, conflicts regarding land price fixing and delays in court procedures. Also there is tax deduction from the compensation money which is reimbursed on application but the delay in receiving the money back leave the people with relatively less funds to invest in another plot or house.

The result is that people are most often unable to buy another piece of land of the same extent within the same locality at the time of eviction. In the case of Vallarpadam road project the three year gap between the time of land acquisition notification (2005) and handing over of compensation money (2008) saw a rocketing of land price in the villages in speculation of the National Highway coming up and other possibilities of development initiatives. Many affected were devoid of the choice to buy land in their own neighbourhood with the compensation money received. Many had to move out of their villages or the district to purchase own plot of land at prices they can afford.

A subsistence allowance at Rs 3000 per month per family for 12 months and Rs 2000 per month per family as annuity for 20 years with approximate index for inflation is offered as part of the rehabilitation package. Also upon every transfer of land within 10 years of acquisition, 20% of the appreciated value will be offered to the land owner in proportion to their land acquired. While all these look laudable the allowances look meek in those cases where subsistence of the people is entirely based on the land being acquired. For someone whose livelihood entirely depend on farming the loss of land could be disastrous if the person is unable to purchase another farming area with the compensation received. In large scale land acquisitions an entire stretch of land will be acquired and the affected will be left with the choice to go to distant places for purchasing land away from their familiar conditions. Even attempts to buy land in the surrounding areas can be futile with the rocketing of prices due to the upcoming project. Large scale conversion of cultivable lands can affect the agricultural economy of the area and it would be difficult to bring back the same balance that existed as before. Switching to other jobs and a complete changeover of livelihood will be the only option left in such cases. Also it is not clear which categories of people will be provided with subsistence allowance and Annuities, that whether a farmer losing 1 acre productive land will be treated in par with someone who lose 3-5 cents of land with just housing as the asset for the same.

Other offers like Rs 50,000 for transportation, reserving 20% of the developed land for the evictees if acquired for urbanization, employment for one member per family or payment of 2 lakhs, whenever-possible offer of share up to 25% of the compensation amount are all beneficial to the evictees if the mentioned benefits are transferred to the eligible with proper coordination.

Similar is the case of people who loss livelihoods and the landless who are offered

•  Subsistence allowance at Rs. 3000 per month per family for 12 months

•  Rs 2000 per month per family as annuity for 20 years, with appropriate index for inflation

•  If home-less, a constructed house (plinth area) on 150 sqmts of house site in rural areas or 50 sqmts in urban area, provided free of cost

•  A one-time ‘Resettlement Allowance' of Rs 50,000

•  Rs 50,000 for transportation

•  Mandatory employment for one member per affected family or 2 lakh rupees

Livelihood losers is a very abstract concept and the process of distributing the benefits can be tough with the possibility that the real beneficiaries are kicked out of benefits and fakers are entertained.

Acquisition of tribal land

Here again only the land and monetary benefits to the evictees are highlighted and the policy stops short of even assessing the nature of land, the extent of land being acquired and the need for the same, especially in a situation when forest lands are being converted in large scale circumventing all the existing laws for forest conservation. The loss is calculated in financial terms and not ecological or cultural terms. The issue is relevant in the context of large scale conversion of forest areas for mining projects and alienation of the tribal community from their livelihood sources in several regions.

The following benefits are offered to the evictees.

•  One acre of land to each ST family in every project

•  One time financial assistance of Rs 50,000 for ST families

•  ST families settled outside the district shall be entitled to an additional 25% R&R benefits (and a onetime payment of Rs 50,000) to which they are entitled in monetary terms

•  Payment of one third of the compensation amount at very outset to ST families

•  Preference in relocation and resettlement in area in same compact block

•  Free land for community and social gatherings

•  In case of displacement of 100 or more ST families, a Tribal Displacement Plan is to be prepared:

-Detailing process to be followed for settling land rights and restoring titles on alienated land

-Details of programme for development of alternate fuel, fodder and non-timber forest produce

The benefits listed appear to be appealing in first view, the only concern being to what extent they will be materialized. Especially in the context of Kerala where the landless Tribes and Dalits are still struggling for the plots of land rightfully offered to them. The ceiling of 100 families for the preparation of a Tribal Displacement Plan is again questionable since it may negatively affect those families in cases of small scale evictions, additional acquisitions or acquisition by multiple agencies. Further it is not politically right to treat the tribal community in par with the general community since the population sizes of both groups are not at all comparable.

Acquisition of agricultural land

One thing specifically mentioned in the draft policy is that Government does not envisage acquiring any irrigated multi-crop land at any circumstances. This doesn't address the issue of false reports on the use of land which is often concocted by the concerned departments for justifying the acquisition of land. An example is the acquisition in process for 472 acres in Angamaly region for the Kerala Export Promotion Industrial Park by KINFRA. The Government reports state that majority of the land is lying fallow whereas the land is multi-cropped with paddy, tapioca, plantain, coconut, nutmeg etc. Also there are lands falling in it where paddy is cultivated more than once a year. Also it raises the question regarding the fate of wetlands with single crop cultivation like paddy but is too waterlogged for raising other crops. Even if the land is lying fallow there are existing wetland conservation laws in the state which mandates the conservation of wetlands and transformation of fallow lands back for productive purpose. But the existing state laws can be easily overcome this being a National law with given powers to have ‘overriding effect' over other laws. The draft policy states ‘ The provisions of this Act, shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent contained in any other law for the time being in force or in any instrument having effect by virtue of any law other than this law' .

The draft policy mandates that the Appropriate Government shall constitute a Committee under the Chairmanship of the Chief Secretary or officer of equivalent rank, consisting of the Secretaries of the Departments of Finance, Revenue, Rural Development, Social Justice, Tribal Welfare, Panchayati Raj and the concerned Departments and not more than three experts from the relevant fields, to examine proposals for land acquisition. The involvement of the Agricultural department is not specifically mentioned here inspite of the large scale agricultural lands that are notified for acquisition. The Agricultural department in the project, state or National level does not have a say in the acquisition of agricultural lands and conversion for other purposes.


Suppressing the dissent

Whoever willfully obstructs any person in doing any of the acts authorized by section 9 or section 15, or willfully fills up, destroys, damages or displaces any trench or mark made under section 15, shall, on conviction before a Magistrate, be liable to imprisonment for any term not exceeding one month, or to fine not exceeding five hundred rupees, or to both' . Any dissent against the LA process is thus made illegal. This illegality is made use of by the authorities to suppress any dissent against the acquisition, as in the cases of Vallarpadam NH connectivity and KEPIP industrial area where uncalled for swiftness was taken in the decision for issuing the 4(1) notification so that with the notification even a democratic mode of protest hindering the acquisition process will be illegal. The draft policy gives space for dissent but only at the prescribed venue and time as decided by the state. It is like a play where all actors are given the chance to perform but the scene and extent of involvement are decided upon by the invisible director who is behind the stage. Here the state takes up the role of the director, decides all the game rules, but gives away the impression that the actors are in charge.

(The author is a Research Scholar with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences)





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