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Mamata land stand echoes

Antony

New Delhi, Oct. 8: Two central ministers today said the government should stay off acquisition of land for private firms, echoing Mamata Banerjee’s stand on such takeovers.

Defence minister A.K. Antony and tribal affairs minister V.K.C. Deo told a meeting of a group of ministers (GoM) that the government should have no role in acquiring land for private industry.

The redrafted Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Bill gives states the prerogative to acquire up to 100 per cent land for private firms.

The parliamentary standing committee on rural development had recommended that the government should not be involved in acquisition of land for private companies and private-public-partnership (PPP) projects. It had given the example of developed countries like America and Japan where land is bought by private enterprises, not acquired by the state.

At the meeting of the GoM, headed by agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, Antony, sources said, suggested the government should have no role in acquiring land for private industry.

For PPP projects, he said the private partner should buy up to 90 per cent of the land required while the government may acquire the remaining 10 per cent. Deo, who backed Antony’s views, said the government might step in if the private industry found it difficult to buy land.

Mamata has been saying that governments should have no role in takeover of land for private industry and her Trinamul-led Bengal government has been following a hands-off policy on such acquisitions.

“Industry believes in market philosophy always. On land, they should also go by market philosophy. Why should the government acquire land for them,” party MP D. Bandyopadhyay said.

Rural development minister Jairam Ramesh, however, favours a government role in acquisition of land for PPP projects and private companies. Ramesh believes poor landowners might be victimised if the government stays off the process of such acquisitions.

Deo brought up the issue of including a retrospective clause in the bill to ensure that ongoing projects, where compensation has not been paid, adhere to the rehab and resettlement provisions in the proposed law. The bill now provides for twice the market value of land as compensation in urban areas and between two and four times the market value in rural areas.

Urban development minister Kamal Nath said if farmland was being acquired, the gram panchayat should decide the market value. The bill says the market value should be decided by the average price of land sold in an area in the last three years.

Deo said the gram sabha, the body representing a village, should decide the market value. The meeting remained inconclusive as finance minister P. Chidambaram has not yet given his views on the bill.

The rural development ministry is likely to introduce a clause that would automatically terminate the proposed law after a specific period. A clause saying the new law would be invalid after 20 years may be incorporated. The now defunct anti-terror law Tada had a similar provision.