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Is Land Acquisition Bill good for common man? Weighing the pros & cons of the law

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By Harshmeet Singh

Congress’ opposition to BJP’s amended Land Acquisition Bill reached the streets of Delhi on Monday with a number of leaders including Anand Sharma, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Jairam Ramesh and Ambika Soni gathering at Jantar Mantar and addressing their supporters. Reports of local police resorting to lathi charge and water canon against Congress supporters also surfaced in the media.

This key Bill has become a bottleneck in the ongoing Budget Session of the parliament with the Congress staging a walk out last week when the Bill was passed with 9 amendments in the Lok Sabha. For the Bill to eventually take the form of an act, it would now have to pass through the Rajya Sabha as well, where the BJP doesn’t have a majority. The opposition (mainly comprising of the Congress and the Samajwadi Party) are adamant on sending the Bill to the standing committee, which would ensure that the current ordinance expires. They will have a chance to have their way when the bill comes up for consideration in the upper house.

Attaching urgency to the Bill, the BJP had issued an ordinance in December last year. When the President asked the Government about the reason behind such urgency to issue an ordinance, Arun Jaitley reportedly told him that projects worth $300 billion were on hold due to certain provisions in the 2013 Land Acquisition Act which this bill seeks to amend.

“If at any time, except when both Houses of Parliament are in session, the President is satisfied that circumstances exist which render it necessary for him to take immediate action, he may promulgate such Ordinance as the circumstances appear to him to require.” All such ordinances issued by the President when either house is not in session cease to operate after six weeks from the reassembly of the Parliament. This explains Government’s urgency in passing this critical bill.

Context of the Bill

‘Land Acquisition’ essentially refers to buying of land from an unwilling seller. In this case, it would exclusively include the Government buying land from the land owners for development projects. The first law in this regard was framed by the British Government in India in 1894 which gave the Government power to acquire any land for public purposes (no ifs no buts!). Since this law gave immense power to the Governments at the centre and the states, no one bothered about changing it and the Governments frequently acquired lands for public projects and for setting up PSUs after the independence. Post the LPG reforms of 1991, the Government started giving lands to the private players as well, hoping to script a glorious growth story.

The land owners (farmers in most cases) were seldom compensated for their land. There were no provisions for their rehabilitation and resettlement which meant that their families were left to suffer. Such acquisition didn’t require the consent of the land owner either. Moreover, in many cases, the land owner was just given a few days’ notice to vacate the land. Though the land was taken on the name of ‘development’, these farmers never became a part of such development.

Small disagreements took the shape of protests over the years. A number of such protests were seen at different places such as Nandigram, Singur and Sardar Sarovar Dam. With opaque land acquisition practices becoming the norm, there was never a bigger need for a transparent land acquisition bill. The current bill in question, which seeks to bring certain amendments in the Land Acquisition Act passed by the UPA government in 2013, has been termed as ‘anti-farmer’ by the opposition parties in the parliament and Anna Hazare on the streets.

Pros of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill, 2015

  • The original act of 2013 considered as many as 13 cases of land acquisition as ‘exceptional’ and these were thus excluded from the act. These included land acquisition for metro rail, national highways, railway lines, atomic energy projects, petroleum and mineral pipelines and others. The new amendment includes all such cases in the Act and thus provides similar rehabilitation and resettlement benefits in these cases.
  • The ordinance also gives the power to the Government to acquire multi crop irrigated land, if it is meant for the projects related to industrial corridors, defence, national security, rural infrastructure including electrification and social infrastructure. This would ensure that such projects are fast tracked and the bottlenecks are removed with considerable ease.

And now the cons

  • The most visible con in the amended bill which is being voiced by the opposition is that it takes away the need for consent of the land owner if the land is being acquired for any of these five purposes – rural infrastructure, industrial corridors, affordable housing, defence and public private partnership projects. While the Government supports this clause and attaches it to its ‘aim for development’, the opposition is up in arms saying that this would lead to land getting grabbed at will. Notably, the new act also exempts these five areas from any Social Impact Assessment, an observation many have overlooked!
  • The Act of 2013 provided that if the acquired land is unused for five years, it must be duly returned to the owner. But the provisions in the ordinance has replaced it with ‘five years or any period specified at the time of setting of the project’, thus giving the government a free hand at deciding the fate of the project and the land.

Race against time

The second phase of the Budget session ends on 8th May. If the government doesn’t manage to pass the bill in the upper house during the budget session itself, the ordinance would stand void. Since the Government is free to issue the same ordinance any number of times, it would be safe to assume that the Government would finally get its way with the amended bill. But when and how remains to be seen.

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Saw AAP MLAs Assaulting Chief Secretary, CM’s Advisor Tells Police

The AAP defended by stating that Jain had initially told police that he did not witness any assault and police has threatened Jain to change his statement

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The AAP had denied the charges of assault and said that the Chief Secretary was making allegations at the behest of the BJP. Wikimedia Commons

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s adviser V. K. Jain on Thursday told police that he saw AAP MLAs Amanatullah Khan and Prakash Jarwal “physically assaulting” Chief Secretary Anshu Prakash, according to Jain’s statement recorded by the Delhi Police.

The AAP defended by stating that Jain had initially told police that he did not witness any assault and police has threatened Jain to change his statement.

On Tuesday, the Chief Secretary had alleged that he was beaten up by the two AAP MLAs in the presence of Kejriwal at the Chief Minister’s residence on Monday night, where he had been called for an emergency meeting.

ALSO READ: The assault on Chief Secretary exposes the double standards of AAP government

Police later arrested Khan and Jarwal and they were sent to judicial custody till Thursday.

According to the Chief Secretary, the Chief Minister’s adviser had called him over the phone and asked him to come to the Chief Minister’s residence for the meeting and Jain was also present there.

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According to the statement, Jain also saw that the Chief Secretary’s spectacles had fallen to the ground and the Chief Secretary picked them up and left the room. Wikimedia Commons

On Thursday, the Delhi Police submitted Jain’s statement at a city court, which said that Jain had gone to the washroom during the meeting and as he came out he saw the two AAP MLAs “physically assaulting” the Chief Secretary.

The statement was recorded under Section 161 of the CrPC, which means that it was recorded in front of the police and not a magistrate.

Sources told IANS that Jain later recorded his statement in front of a magistrate under section 164 of the CrPC.

“The statement under section 164 was later recorded with the magistrate in front a camera, without the presence of police. In that statement also he (Jain) has said that he saw the two MLAs physically assaulting the Chief Secretary,” a police officer privy to the case told IANS.

The officer said that the statement under section 164 has also been submitted to the court.

Jain was first questioned on Wednesday morning and then again on Thursday and his statement was recorded on Thursday.

The change in Jain’s statement that the AAP was referring to was from a “question and answer” with Jain recorded by police after questioning him on Wednesday.

According to a copy of Wednesday’s “question and answer” recorded by police, when asked whether Jain saw the Chief Secretary being manhandled, he replied that he had gone to the washroom in between the meeting and he could not say what happened during that time.

“By putting pressure on him (Jain) throughout the day (Thursday) and by threatening him, police has forced him to change his statement,” AAP MP Sanjay Singh told the media here on Thursday.

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Singh said that the whole issue was a conspiracy to “bring down the Delhi government” and to “defame the AAP”. Wikimedia Commons

 

“How is it that the same Jain who emphatically said yesterday that he witnessed no assault during the entire time that he was present there has now claimed otherwise?” he asked.

Singh said that AAP MLAs were being arrested over an alleged assault of which there was no proof.

“But on the other hand, despite there being video footage of officials assaulting Delhi Cabinet Minister Imran Hussain, there is no action taken against the guilty by the Delhi Police,” the AAP MP said.

The court on Thursday sent the two AAP MLAs, arrested on charges of assaulting the Chief Secretary, to judicial custody for 14 days.

ALSO READ: Delhi Chief Secretary row: AAP MLA arrested

Orders on the bail pleas of the two AAP MLAs and also on their police custody will be pronounced on Friday.

Meanwhile, scores of Delhi government employees across the city observed a five-minute silence outside their respective offices as a protest against the alleged assault on the Chief Secretary.

The IAS Association said that officers would continue the protest every day, till steps are taken to “ensure safety and dignity” of government staff in the city.

The AAP also hit out at Lt Governor Anil Baijal by stating that he was “working as a BJP agent” and demanded action against those involved in “manhandling and beating up” Hussain and his aide at the Delhi Secretariat on Tuesday. (IANS)