Land Grab Ordinance

The past decade has seen sustained struggles by farmers, adivasis, and displaced people against acquisition of agricultural land across the country by various companies, corporate houses, and governments. The adivasi and farmers’ struggles at Kalinganagar, Jagatsinghpur (Posco), Niyamgiri (Odisha), Bhatta Parsaul, Dadri, Bareilly (U.P.), Singur, Nandigram (W Bengal), Fatehabad (Haryana), Jaitapur (Maharashtra),Bhatinda (Punjab), Patratu, Ramgarh, Bokaro (Jharkhand), Nabinagar, Bihta, Begusarai, Kahalgaon, Hajipur, Forbesganj (Bihar), Kudankulam (Tamil Nadu), etc caused sleepless nights for the Central and State governments. As a result of these concerted struggles, the Congress government at the Centre changed the 1894 British Raj land acquisition law and was forced to pass a new law in 2013. Although even this new law failed to address the issues of rapidly dwindling agricultural land in the country and the resultant concerns about food security, it was forced to include several pro-farmer provisions before land could be acquired. Countrywide discussions took place before this Bill was passed and finally it was passed as a law in the Parliament with the support of both the Congress and the BJP and was called the Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation Act 2013.

Nowhere in the country had farmers received any benefits from the law passed in Parliament because the State governments had not yet changed their systems to work according to the law. Soon after the TMC took political advantage of Singur and Nandigram and came to power in the State, the BJP took advantage of the woes of the farmers and captured power at the Centre but after coming to power they soon began to show their true colours. While their policies are pro-corporate and pro-foreign capital, they are also playing the politics of communal polarization. Eight ordinances were passed over a period of 7 months. In spite of having a majority in Parliament the government could not muster the courage for a debate, especially on the Land Acquisition ordinance.

The Land Acquisition ordinance changed the very soul of the 2013 law. In the new ordinance the government has brought in amendments under the new section 10 (A) excluding 5 big areas from the ambit of the Land Acquisition Act, such as the industrial corridor, security, rural infrastructure, housing and related infrastructure, and social infrastructure including projects under government and PPP models. Under the old law these matters required 70% farmers’ consent in the case of joint government and private projects, and 80% farmers’ (land owners) consent in the case of private projects; this condition has been removed from the new ordinance. At the same time, now multi-crop irrigated land can also be acquired for such projects. The provision for social impact assessment in the case of land acquired for such projects has also been scrapped. The condition under Section 101 of the earlier law, which requires that land not used for 5 years be returned to the owner, has been altered thus: “The time limit which has been set for a project or 5 years, whichever is bigger”. The definition of “families affected by acquisition” has also been changed and rendered very vague.

Changes have also been made in other legal and rights related matters. Section 87 of the earlier law provided that in case of breach of law by a Central or State official, the Head of the concerned department would also be held responsible, but in the new ordinance action has been provided only under Section 197 of the general criminal procedure code of the court. In the earlier law the time limit for implementing provisions (compensation, relief, and rehabilitation and other similar provisions) was 2 years, which has now been altered and extended to 5 years. The provision of fixing and disbursement of compensation, to be monitored by the court, has also been removed. None of these will be necessary under the new ordinance. Under Section 24 (2) of the old law, if there is a court case, a time limit of 5 years for a stay order had been set (which the Supreme Court also deemed correct); the new ordinance has changed this and removed time limits.

To point out the necessity of bringing this ordinance immediately, the government has very cunningly used Section 105 of the old law according to which 13 land acquisition acts such as National Highway Act 1956, Railway Act 1989, Coal Bearing Areas Acquisition and Development Act 1957 had to be brought under the 2013 law within one year (1 Jan 2015) of the implementation of the 2013 law (1 Jan 2014) with the consent of the Parliament. Under the retrospective provision, the outgoing government made provisions for acquisition to be scrapped where compensation for acquired land was not paid or possession of land was not taken. Obviously this has not been done anywhere in the country within just one year, and even if this has happened in one or two exceptional cases, the government has armed itself with the weapon to scrap them.

Clearly this ordinance is not just the return of the 1894 Land Acquisition Act but an extended form of it. The present law facilitates land acquisition by private institutions, corporate houses, and companies. The present law is a direct attack on the property rights and freedom of farmers and adivasis, and the country’s food security. In the five big categories covered in the ordinance, land grab for private profit, including the real estate mafia, has been classified as a ‘public good’. This is the argument of the Modi government’s Finance minister Arun Jaitley: “How will our cities and urban settlements be built? Will they contain only government schools and colleges with no permission for other educational and medical institutions?” (And then if there are private educational and medical institutions, are not apartments, hotels, malls, and private toll-tax roads for swanky cars required?). The question is, why should these institutions, which have profit-making as their objective, not be required to acquire consent from the farmers pay the farmers for the land they acquire? In scrapping the 70% and 80% farmers’ consent clause and the social impact assessment clause, the government has displayed its tyrannical face, and proved that it does not care for farmers.

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