New Delhi, Oct. 16: A group of ministers (GoM) today cleared a bill that gives state governments full freedom to decide the role they want to play in land acquisition for private industry, ignoring the stated position of Mamata Banerjee.
If the bill is passed in Parliament, it will mean that state governments can acquire either the entire land or part of it required for private industry, provided two-thirds of the landowners give consent.
Mamata has been insisting that the government should play no role in acquisition for private industry. At first glance, it may appear that the ministers have heeded her concern by leaving it to the states.
But, in case the bill is passed without any change, it will mean that Bengal’s already onerous task of attracting private industry will become more difficult. Had the 12-member GoM headed by Sharad Pawar kept the government completely out of the acquisition process or limited its role, the resultant level-playing field among states would have eased the situation somewhat for the Mamata government when it scouted for investments.
Like Mamata, defence minister A.K. Antony and tribal affairs minister V.K.C. Deo — both are members of the GoM — had earlier said that the government should have no role in acquiring land for private industry.
But the GoM-cleared draft of the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Act says the government can be involved in acquisition. The bill does not set any limit — the government’s involvement can be between 100 per cent to zero per cent.
A parliamentary standing committee on rural development had earlier recommended that the government should not be involved in land acquisition for private companies and public-private partnership projects.
The original bill had provided for obtaining the consent of 80 per cent of affected families for acquisition of land for private industry. The ministry lowered it to 66 per cent of landowners, not all the affected families such as sharecroppers dependent on the land for their livelihood. But the land dependants will be eligible for relief and rehabilitation.
The GoM felt the proposed bill should mention a cut-off date from which the law would be applicable. Any project where payment of compensation or taking over of possession is incomplete on that particular cut-off date should come under the new law.
The original bill said the law would apply retrospectively where the compensation has not been paid or possession has not taken place fully.
The absence of a cut-off meant the law would have been applicable to ongoing projects where some portion of the required land remains to be acquired. In such a scenario, a certain percentage of affected families would have had to be content with relief governed by the old act while the remaining families would have got a better package under the new law.
“There will be a cut-off date which is yet to be decided. Any project where acquisition is incomplete will have to follow the compensation and rehabilitation package of the new law,” a source said.
The GoM did not change the compensation formula —twice the market value of the land in urban areas and between two to four times of the market value in rural areas.
All the provisions of the new bill will apply to acquisition of land for special economic zones.