Build United Struggles against Pro-Corporate and Anti-People
Land Acquisition Ordinance
A Note from the CPI(M)
The Modi Government in an authoritarian manner has amended the Land Acquisition legislation through an Ordinance without going through the Parliament. The CPI(M) had criticised the Act brought by the UPA Government as being inadequate and had moved amendments to it. The CPI(M) wanted the Act to be further strengthened to protect the interests of farmers and those dependent on the land.
However the Modi Ordinance snatches away even those protections. It is a step backwards to reinstate the anti-farmer framework of the colonial Land Acquisition Act of 1894. The Ordinance ignores genuine concerns of farmers and millions of persons dependent on land.
What are the main features of the Ordinance?
The Issue of Consent:
The 2013 Act provided that acquisition of land for private companies required consent of at least 80 per cent of those affected families and in the case of public private partnership projects of at least 70 per cent. (Sec 2.sub clause 2 (b) (1) and (2))
The Ordinance excludes a range of more projects whether in the public or private sector from the condition of getting consent from the farmers. Projects to be excluded include all those relating to defence production, power projects and other projects for rural infrastructure, housing for poor, industrial corridors and PPP projects. Since most of land acquisition has been for such power and irrigation related projects, the exemption given from getting the consent of farmers will be disastrous for the farmers. (Insertion of new Ch 3A)
Thus the Ordinance reinstates the “Eminent domain” or power of the State to forcibly acquire Land without the owner's consent by the different exemptions given in the Ordinance. The amendments will remove distinction between acquisition for the State and for Private companies. It will bring private companies and their activities of unbridled profiteering into public purpose.
In a sense therefore these amendments are even more retrograde than the 1894 Act. Even though the 1894 Act allowed the use of the State’s eminent domain to forcibly acquire land for public purpose, acquisition could not be done for “private purposes” of a company simpliciter, and had to be made in the “larger public interest”. Further, acquisition for companies was not to be done without due consideration, simply on demand. But now all that is done away with. The ordinance shows that Modi Raj is Company Raj.
The Issue of Social Impact Assessment and Safeguard for Food Security
The 2013 Act has two important chapters 2 and 3. Chapter 2 deals with Social Impact Studies and Assessments. This is to have an impartial assessment as to how many families will be affected, is the land being acquired the minimum of what is actually required, whether any alternative site is available and so on. Corporates had strongly opposed this Chapter as often they have acquired land far in exess of the actual requirement, fudged figures of those affected and so on.
The Ordinance exempts all categories included in its new proposed Ch 3 A described above entirely from having any Social Impact Assessment.
Similarly there is wholesale exemption from Chapter 3. Chapter 3 deals with ‘special provisions to safeguard food security. It categorically states “no irrigated multi cropped land shall be acquired under this Act.” However it does give certain exemptions for “exceptional circumstances” and as a “demonstrable last resort.” But the Modi Government is unambiguous about its drive for allowing private projects in the name of infrastructure. Thus the entire chapter is nullified by exemptions given to the five categories listed above.
These three aspects namely the dilution of consent of farmers, exemption of any Social Impact Assessments and freedom to acquire even the most productive agricultural land are the actual core of the Ordinance. They are deeply anti-farmer and pro-corporate and must be opposed.
The Issue of Government Acquisition for Private Sector:
The Act had excluded Government acquisition for private hospitals, private educational institutions and private hotels. (Sec 2.1 Clause b.(i)) The Ordinance however permits Government acquisition of land for private hospitals, hotels and educational institutions. Thus the very definition of “public purpose” gets converted to public purpose for private profit.
Public purpose must be defined as activities which are of direct benefit to the largest number of people and does not include the furtherance of private speculation and profit.
The provision to include private hospitals and private educational institutions under social infrastructure category thus to enable cheap and forcible acquisitions of land cannot be accepted.
New Addition of Private Entity
The Act has a chapter under Sec.4 which provides definitions. An addition has been made to this list with the inclusion of the words “private entity” which includes corporates, proprietorships and even non-profit organisations or any other entity under any law. Thus NGOs close to the sangh parivar or anyone else can be included in the law.
This amendment widens the scope of those who can grab land.
The issue of Unutilised Land
Under the Land Acquisition Act, 2013 if land acquired remained unutilised for 5 years, it was to be returned to the original owners or the land bank.
According to the Land Acquisition Ordinance, 2014 the period after which unutilised land will need to be returned will be 5 years, or any period specified at the time of setting up the project, whichever is later.
This Amendment will ensure holding of land for a prolonged period even if unutilised and encourage speculative activity. Even today land taken for projects remains unultilised for years together while the former owners suffer, no public purpose is served.
This is entirely unacceptable.
The Issue of Retrospective Effect
The Land Acquisition Act, 2013 states that the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 will apply in those cases, where an award has been made under the 1894 Act.
However, if such an award was made five years or more before the enactment of the 2013 Act, and the physical possession of land has not been taken or compensation has not been paid, the 2013 Act will apply.
The Land Acquisition Ordinance, 2014 states that in calculating this time period, any period during which the proceedings of acquisition were held up: (i) due to a stay order of a court, or (ii) a period specified in the award of a Tribunal for taking possession, or (iii) any period where possession has been taken but the compensation is lying deposited in a court or any account, will not be counted.
Thus Ordinance discounts farmer protests and in effect saves the land acquirer from the costs of compensation under this Act. This is clearly unfair and unjust.
Issue of Extension of Compensation
The Land Acquisition Act, 2013 exempted 13 Acts from its purview with the condition that they would be included under the purview of the Act within one year. This means that all land losers whose land was to be acquired under any of the 13 Acts such as the Coal Bearing Areas Act etc. would be eligible for the benefits of the compensation and other benefits of restettlement and rehabiliation under the Act.
This had to be done within a year. At that time the CPI(M) had demanded that there was no logic in waiting for a year and that all benefits under te new law should also accrue to those whose land was acquired under the 13 exempted Acts. This was not accepted by the then UPA Government.
The year was completed in January 2015. The Modi Government should have brought a simple amendment in the December session of Parliament for the inclusion of similar rates of compensation. Instead of which it used the occasion to bring not only this clause in the Ordinance but to dilute and eliminate other rights.
Fight the Ordinance
As can be seen this Ordinance paves way for forcible and indiscriminate land acquisition by doing away with the need for consent of the land owners and Social Impact Assessment. The definition of public purpose is further diluted and will bring Private companies and their activities of unbridled profiteering into public purpose and promote further unregulated takeover of land by corporates. Food security will be compromised as it will now be possible to easily acquire multi-cropped fertile land as well as productive rain-fed and semi-arid land for industrial corridors, infrastructure projects including the PPP projects. The provision to substitute “private company” with “private entity” is a blatant attempt to widen the scope of land grabbing. The provision to include private hospitals and private educational institutions under social infrastructure category thus to enable cheap and forcible acquisitions of land cannot be accepted.
The Ordinance is merely an instrument for speedy expropriation and facilitation of land acquisition in a quick, cheap and easy way with little concern for consent, adequate compensation and rehabilitation of landowners and other dependents on land.
CPI(M) shall build broad united movements at all sites of indiscriminate, unjust land acquisition and fight to protect the rights of the peasantry, tenants, agricultural workers, Adivasis, Dalits and all affected persons.