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Law to tackle land unrest
- Tribal right to vote on offer of relief

New Delhi, March 28: The Centre wants to allow tribal villages to hold a vote on rehabilitation packages for vacating land for projects, addressing one of the most contentious issues dogging development initiatives in the country.

A legislation being drawn up will also shift the focus of relief from giving jobs to allocating farm land to the displaced.

The proposal has been mooted in the wake of recurring bloodshed that follows complaints of inadequate compensation by those uprooted by industrial as well as development projects. The latest such flare-up broke out in Visakhapatnam yesterday following differences over compensation for land for a port.

The new legislation, which has been suggested by the National Advisory Council, will be applicable only to central government utilities and companies. However, since the legislation will be based on items that are on the concurrent list, states can use the bill as a model and bring in a uniform policy.

The central law will also incorporate a national rehabilitation council that will vet the packages offered to the tribals. If states pass similar acts, they can have local rehabilitation councils.

The issue of tribal rehabilitation has acquired a sense of urgency after 13 people were killed during a protest against land acquisition for a steel plant in Orissa’s Kalinganagar. The tribals were protesting the low land price and lack of job offers.

With tribal unrest spreading and getting enmeshed in a rising Maoist movement in the tribal belt, officials feel the Centre cannot afford to remain aloof much longer and must coordinate with states to work out a solution.

According to the referendum plan, the rehabilitation policy will have to be cleared by at least 50 per cent members of the gram sabha. Dissenters’ opinion will have to be recorded and attempts made to turn them around. If the gram sabha does not clear the terms, a new package will have to be formulated.

The new “land for land” policy will also seek to give alternative farming land. The government believes that mere cash compensation does not solve livelihood problems. Besides, with few unskilled jobs in mechanised sectors, the old policy of jobs for land is difficult to implement.

Earlier, steel plants used to negotiate packages which included a job for at least one member of each family displaced, besides cash compensation for land, housing estates and community benefits like healthcare.

“Jobs could then be given because these were huge mills and the industrial process required tens of thousands of unskilled or semi-skilled workers,” an official pointed out. But with modernisation, the number of jobs has been reduced to a third or fourth.

If farmland allocation is not possible, alternative livelihood ' which could be through common ownership of lakes formed by dams for hydel projects ' will be considered.

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