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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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What Would Be The Outcome Of The Judgement On Homosexuality With BJP At The Centre?

If parties like the BJP and "cultural" organisations like the RSS realise the value and motivation of such mindsets, they will desist from their present attempts to impose a straitjacket of their pseudo-religious identity on the nation.

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Flag Of BJP, homosexuality
Ruling on gays: Is the BJP out of sync with modern realities? Flickr

More than the social impact of the Supreme Court’s judgment on homosexuality, what will be of concern to the ruling party at the Centre is its political fallout. Hence, the eloquent silence of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the subject.

For the BJP and its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), any expansion of the concept of civil liberties is fraught with danger to their restrictive worldviews since a widening of human rights carries the prospect of greater individualism.

If the rights of the homosexuals to live without legal constraints are conceded, it can only encourage the people to free themselves of other restrictions as well such as on choosing live-in partners (of whatever sex) and eating, dressing and speaking as they please.

Homosexuality, India
SC decriminalises homosexuality, victory for gay rights. Pixabay

It is noteworthy that the verdict on gays has come close on the heels of the judgment which described the right to dissent as a “safety valve” which the government can only shut off at its peril lest there is an explosion.

Moreover, the court had also upheld not long ago the right to privacy which the government described as an “elitist” concept.

For the Hindu Right, as also for other religious fundamentalists, this dalliance with civil rights — the freedom to criticise the government, the exaltation of privacy and now the decriminalisation of homosexuality — entails a push towards liberalism and modernism which are anathema to any group which wants the society to be bound by shackles of orthodoxy and obscurantism.

It is ironic that although the Hindutva brotherhood speaks of decolonising the Indian mind, the two colonial laws which have long been its favourites are the section on homosexuality in the Indian Penal Code and on sedition.

Now that one of them is gone, there is little doubt that these closet followers of Britain’s 19th century politician Lord Macaulay — even as they decry the secular groups as “Macaulay’s children” — will hold on resolutely to the law on sedition as their only safeguard against the “anti-nationals” who, they believe, stalk the land.

Homosexuality
It is ironic that although the Hindutva brotherhood speaks of decolonising the Indian mind, the two colonial laws which have long been its favourites are the section on homosexuality in the Indian Penal Code and on sedition.
Wikimedia Commons

It is also possible that the saffronites will keep a hawk’s eye on any social problems that may arise because of the assertion of gay rights. As the BJP MP Subramanian Swamy has said, with eager anticipation, if a five-judge bench can overturn an earlier judgment in favour of criminalising homosexuality, a larger bench can undo the present verdict if gay bars begin to flourish and there is a rise in the cases of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infections.

Interestingly, what these judgments underline is how the judiciary is more attuned to the changing world than the elected representatives of the hoi polloi who often argue in favour of giving greater primacy to the legislature than the judiciary since they claim to represent the people while the judges are unelected denizens of an ivory tower.

However, one possible reason why MPs and MLAs, especially of the BJP, seem to be out of sync with the present-day world is the presence in their midst of a large number of criminal elements who can hardly be regarded as the most progressive sections of society.

For instance, of the 543 elected members of the Lok Sabha, of whom 186 have a criminal record, 63 belong to the BJP, followed by eight of the Shiv Sena, four of the Trinamool Congress and three each of the Congress and the AIADMK.

Homosexuality
Gay Pride Procession. Pixabay

What the Supreme Court judgment appears to have done is to persuade parties like the Congress, which usually hedges its bets lest it should fall on the wrong side of public opinion, to come out in the verdict’s favour, presumably because it senses that this judgment, more than any other, has become a touchstone in the matter of breaking out from the stranglehold of the past.

To distance a party from it, as the BJP is doing, will amount to virtually alienating the entire youth community. Even if a majority among them do not have homosexual instincts — according to official figures, there are 2.5 million gay people in India, but this may be an underestimate since, till now, it was unsafe for them to reveal their sexual orientation — the youths nevertheless see the ruling as an assertion of living life on one’s own terms and not be held hostage by the dictates of a society steeped in conservatism and of political parties which believe that their agenda can only advanced if the country is made forcibly to conform to khap panchayat-style social and cultural norms.

Also Read: Why JDU & BJP Coalition Will Remain Instant

To these youths, being or not being aware of homosexuality is of little consequence. What matters to them is to be able to make up their own minds and not be told by elders to abide by certain rules which are regarded as outdated by the younger generation.

If parties like the BJP and “cultural” organisations like the RSS realise the value and motivation of such mindsets, they will desist from their present attempts to impose a straitjacket of their pseudo-religious identity on the nation. (IANS)