A quick guide to understand the Land Acquisition Ordinance issue

Anna Hazare is back to Delhi and Arvind Kejriwal is also back to dharna. This time, the issue is the Land Acquisition Ordinance, which is being termed as “anti-farmer” by the opposition parties.

OpIndia.com brings to you some primers that will help you understand the entire debate. This is broadly based on this article by author and journalist Anand Ranganathan and some infographics tweeted by BJP’s official Twitter handle.

First, a bit of history. Land acquisition law in India was never “pro farmer” to being with. We had been following a 1894 Act, which allowed for forced land acquisitions and low rates of compensation for farmers. To the credit of the UPA-II government, they brought a new Act in 2013, but Congress can’t take a high moral ground as all their “pro-poor” governments ignored the need for over 60 years.

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Now the Modi government, or rather the NDA government, has made some changes to the UPA’s Act through an ordinance. These changes are being called anti-farmer and pro-industry by critics.

Following are the three major “controversial” changes, and BJP’s defense of those:

1. UPA Act allowed acquisition of land for infrastructure projects excluding private hospitals, private educational institutions and private hotels. The NDA Act now includes private hospitals and private educational institutions. Critics say this is favoring private players.

  • BJP claims that private hospitals and private educational institutes will only help the local residents and these can be allowed as these are regulated sectors and allow only not-for-profit entities.

2. The mandatory prior consent of 80% (for private projects) or 70% (for PPP projects) has been done away with for projects relating to national security or defense, rural infrastructure including electrification, affordable housing, industrial corridors, social infrastructure, and PPP projects where government holds the land. Furthermore, all these projects can be provided irrigable, multi-cropped land without doing a social impact assessment or consultation with local panchayats or municipal corporations. This is the most controversial aspect and attracting protests.

  • BJP claims that these sectors are crucial for the country as well as local development and the consent part has been done away to expedite only a few projects like national highways, railways including metro projects, atomic energy projects, etc. The party and the government point out that the consent requirement remains present in bulk of the projects and so do the requirements for consultations. Apart from that, the part points out that the farmers are getting compensation running up to 4 times the market price, so it can’t be called draconian or unfair.

3. The UPA Act provisioned that the land will go back to the original owners if it is not utilized for 5 years. The NDA Act now removes the 5 year period and replaces it with “a period specified for setting up of any project or for five years, whichever is later.” Critics say that this gives an excuse of land grabbing as one may set the project setting up period as something as long as 20 years and keep the land unutilized, thus squatting on a real estate property.

  • BJP argues that all huge projects require a gestation period. They cite example of nuclear power plants, low cost housing projects, or railways projects, where time required from initial survey and assessment to actual project implementation can take up a lot of time. However, the party may do good to classify various projects that may be allowed to set a longer gestation period as they had done in the case of doing away with prior consent.

Apart from these, these are political bickering over the ordinance, accusing it of being an example of unilateral decision making by the Modi government, which BJP denies by arguing that these changes were incorporated after consulting with all UTs and state governments, which found the UPA act hindering development projects.

It is to be seen if the Modi government agrees to change any of their modifications to the UPA Act or they stick to what they have proposed.

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