The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lolly a day wets poll lips
- Land policy and Lalu’s record bonus keep cabinet busy

New Delhi, Oct. 11: Land and Lalu have scored in the season of lollipops, shovelling fresh fuel into the embers of early polls.

The cabinet today pulled out of its closet several feel-good measures that usually get a fresh lease of life when elections are on the horizon.

The most significant of the decisions is the one to rehabilitate and resettle those who lose land to industry. (Chart on Page 4).

But the most spectacular was a proposal by Lalu Prasad to gift non-gazetted railway employees the highest bonus in the utility’s history. The employees, excluding those of its protection force and special force, will get bonus equivalent to 70 days’ wages.

The cabinet cleared the proposal, citing the fact that the railways are doing quite well. But Lalu Prasad is also among the staunchest opponents of early polls.

A record bonus may be too low a price to turn Lalu Prasad around but the chain of populist decisions — which included an assurance that oil prices would not be raised this year – suggests that the Centre is still keeping its options open on the nuclear deal and snap polls.

The government has been quietly adding to the list of sops — two days ago, it had raised the minimum support price for wheat and announced relief for sugarcane growers.

In public, Lalu Prasad is sticking to his stand. “Let me tell you there is not even a remote chance of a mid-term election,” he said in Patna. Another opponent of early polls, Sharad Pawar, who was also in Patna today, said he did not see “any chance of a snap poll”.

Under the land rehabilitation policy cleared by the cabinet today, states can acquire up to 30 per cent of the land for industry projects, including special economic zones, but must keep farmland takeover to a minimum and try and avoid multi-crop land altogether.

The Centre said industrial and mining projects should preferably be set up on wasteland or non-irrigated land as it cleared a long-awaited rehabilitation policy for the displaced.

Bengal industries minister Nirupam Sen, however, said the 30 per cent cap on government acquisition of land would not work in his state, where landholdings are small and a single objector can hold up a private developer’s efforts to buy directly.

“Government acquisition is a must,” he said. “At Raghunathpur in Purulia, we tried direct purchase through consensus, but we had trouble and land couldn’t be bought.”

“We have no quarrel with the policy. Everybody would say (that) if wasteland is available then that should be used for industry first,” said Anjan Roy, Ficci deputy secretary-general.

One key feature of the National Policy on Rehabilitation and Resettlement, 2007, is that gram sabhas (village councils) must be consulted on the rehabilitation package before land takeover, dissenting opinion recorded and attempts made to persuade the council to agree.

The government believes that cash compensation alone does not solve livelihood problems. It recommends that displaced families be compensated with land as far as possible and given preference during recruitment for jobs in the project on their land.

With the highly mechanised steel, power and other upcoming industries offering limited scope for unskilled labour, the policy suggests a package involving cash, housing, equity stakes and lifetime pensions for some.

The government, which faces elections in two states, compared the policy with that of the previous NDA ministry. “The NDA policy was disastrous as it did not take into account the interest of farmers,” Union minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi said.

He handed the credit for the new policy to Sonia Gandhi who, he said, had pressed for it inside the Congress and at public forums.

The policy allows developers to give up to 20 per cent of the compensation in the form of shares in the project. A larger stake of up to 50 per cent may be allowed in special cases.

“The danger in allowing larger equity pay-outs is that some of the projects may turn out to be duds… we need to protect the simple villagers,” an official said.

Houses must be built for all who lose their homes and transit allowances paid. The social benefits will be extended to the landowners’ tenants, agricultural and non-agricultural labourers and all those who made a living from the land acquired. Non-farmers like artisans get a fixed sum to set up sheds or shops.

Companies must pay the market rate or the price fixed by the government, whichever is higher. “The purpose of acquisition will determine the price,” the official said.

The definition of “family” has been changed relating to compensation. Every unmarried adult is considered a separate unit and receives half the social benefits. A family is made up of the husband and wife, dependent minor children and dependent parents living with them. Grandparents living in separate huts are considered a separate family.

The policy discourages speculative transactions of land acquired for public purposes and says such land can be transferred for other works of public interest only with government permission. Eighty per cent of the profit from such transfers must be shared with those who originally owned the land or their heirs.

“We have, however, redefined public purpose to cover strategic purposes vital to the state as well as public infrastructure such as power, telecom, mining and water supply,” the official said.

If there’s a dispute, land owners can approach the Land Acquisition Disputes Settlement Authority, to be set up soon.

A law is being considered to set up a National Rehabilitation Commission as an independent body that will monitor and vet the packages offered to tribals. The draft law will be tabled in Parliament in the winter session.

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