The Rajasthan government is all set to pass a new land acquisition law, one that has been described as a major “reform.”
But is it reform to pass a law that’s 120 years old?
For the Rajasthan Land Acquisition Bill (see here) is nothing but that – a cut and pasted, slightly tweaked version of the Land Acquisition Act of 1894. Word for word, down to including an entire chapter that is now utterly irrelevant.
And what does this slightly tweaked version of the colonial Act say?
- “Resettlement and rehabilitation” will consist of providing 10% more money in some cases and 30% in other cases (s. 22). Nothing else will be done for resettling those displaced. This when a century of experience has shown that the majority of displaced people are impoverished by projects and that lack of rehabilitation is one of the biggest problems with land acquisition in the country.
- “Obstructing acquisition of land” will be punished by at least six months’ imprisonment and a fine of anywhere from Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 3 lakh. (s. 70) This when conflicts over land acquisition affect more than a quarter of the country’s districts.
- Landowners’ consent will only be taken for “purely private projects.” It will not be required for any PPP project that is “needed for the social and economic operation and development of the state” (i.e. anything; read s. 2 and s. 3(f)(xv) together). As for consent for purely private projects, no acquisition is ever done in the name of a “purely private project”, because the practice is that the state acquires the land in the name of its Industrial Development Corporation (IDCO) and then “leases” or “transfers” the land to the private party. In short, consent will never be needed – just like in the colonial law.
- Compensation is to be awarded by multiplying the “market price” by various factors – but the “market price” is supposedly that reflected in average sale deeds (s. 12). As anyone who has ever bought any property in India knows, sale deeds reflect only a fraction of the real price. And, just to be safe, the bill goes on to say the Collector can ignore any sale deed that actually reflects a high price (see end of s. 12(c)). So fair compensation goes out the window too.
And everything else is pretty much exactly the same as the 1894 Act. Every decision that matters – whether a project is worth the damage it will cause; whether the land area demanded is reasonable; who should be compensated; by how much – is to be made by bureaucrats behind closed doors. Just like in the good old days of the British Raj.
The real comedy comes in chapter IX of the law, which is a word for word copy of part VII of the original Act – with one section deleted. But part VII of the original law was intended to cover acquisition of land for private companies. This is now covered by the main body of the law. So an entire chapter of the new law, with six full sections, is completely redundant. It’s only there because no one bothered to apply their mind when cutting and pasting from the old Act.
The UPA’s new Act of last year also had severe problems. But instead of addressing any real issue, the BJP wants to turn the clock back. After decades of debate over land acquisition; thousands and thousands of conflicts; protests, police firings, killings and massacres; the Raje government wants to revive the same law that created the problem in the first place. And to do so in the most mindless fashion possible.
Meanwhile it turns out that Rajasthan already has acquired more land than it needs and that land is being used for speculation.
Nayi soch, nayi umeed indeed.
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