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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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Karnataka Polls: BJP On The Way to Win, Congress May Get Hard Defeat

Any party or grouping will need 113 of the total 224 seats to secure a majority in the Assembly. Polling did not take place in two constituencies on Saturday.

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A state of 60 million people, Karnataka is home to the Information Technology hub of Benguluru and was ruled by the BJP once before.
Congress may have to taste defeat in Karnataka, VOA

The BJP was on Tuesday set to return to power in its southern bastion Karnataka as its candidates crossed the half-way mark in vote count, stunning and ousting the ruling Congress and leaving the JD-S at the third spot.

Noisy celebrations broke out in party offices in Bengaluru, New Delhi and across Karnataka as Bharatiya Janata Party nominees were on the victory lap in 118 of the 222 constituencies which voted on Saturday.

This was a dramatic jump from the 40 seats the BJP won five years ago.

The Congress, desperate to retain power in the state amid shrinking appeal nationally, suffered major blows and was ahead only in 62 seats, with Chief Minister Siddaramaiah trailing in both the constituencies he contested: Badami and Chamundeshwari.

The Congress leader was way behind G.T Deve Gowda of the Janata Dal-Secular in Chamundeshwari, Election Commission officials said. And after leading initially, Siddaramaiah fell behind B.R. Sriramulu of the BJP in Badami.

In contrast, the BJP’s Chief Ministerial face B.S. Yeddyurappa was ahead of his Congress rival by more than 11,000 votes in Shikaripura.

Energy Minister and Congress leader D.K. Shivakumar said that the numbers indicated that his party was on the way out after five years in power.

Any party or grouping will need 113 of the total 224 seats to secure a majority in the Assembly. Polling did not take place in two constituencies on Saturday.

The BJP was overjoyed. “We are in a jubilant mood because we have crossed the half-way mark. We are confident of winning,” spokesman S. Shantharam told IANS.

BJP activists and leaders celebrated noisily in both Bengaluru and New Delhi, waving party flags and shouting slogans hailing Prime Minister Narendra Modi, their main vote-getter, and party President Amit Shah.

There were also celebrations outside the residence of Yeddyurappa, who has been Chief Minister earlier too.

Of the 2,654 candidates in the fray for the May 12 Karnataka Assembly elections, at least 883 are crorepatis and 645 have criminal cases against them, said two watchdogs after analysing their affidavits filed with the Election Commission (EC).
Karnataka Polls counting suggests big win for BJP, wikimedia commons

The Janata Dal-Secular of former Prime Minister H.D. Dewe Gowda, which has been expected to play the role of a kingmaker in the event of a hung Assembly, was leading in 40 seats — the same number it won five years ago.

As the vote count progressed, BJP leaders became assertive, saying they were confident of taking power again in Karnataka while Congress leaders began to speak about the possibility of an alliance with the JD-S.

BJP leader and Union Minister Sadanand Gowda said that there was no question of any alliance.
Union minister Prakash Javadekar, who is in charge of Karnataka, met BJP President Amit Shah in New Delhi.

Analysts said the BJP was leading in Lingayat dominated seats and the JD-S in Vokkaliga dominated areas.

Expectations of a BJP victory in Karnataka lifted the key Indian equity indices during the mid-morning trade session on Tuesday.

Modi’s Performance: Survey Reports That Significant Number of People Rate Performance of Modi Government as Below Expectations

According to market observers, broadly subdued Asian indices and disappointing macro-economic inflation data points released on Monday capped some gains.

Sector-wise, healthy buying was witnessed in banking, capital goods, metals, consumer durables and automobile stocks.

The Sensex has so far touched a high of 35,993.53 points and a low of 35,498.83 points during the intra-day trade. (IANS)