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RS clears land bill; concern on big dams

New Delhi, Sept. 4: The Rajya Sabha today passed the land acquisition bill with additional amendments giving leeway to irrigation projects in a move activists alleged would facilitate big dams and displace people.

The Right To Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill will now go back to the Lok Sabha for consideration of the amendments. It had cleared the bill’s earlier version last week.

Rural development minister Jairam Ramesh said the amendments followed suggestions from the BJP. Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had sent the proposals to the BJP leadership .

“We have brought three to four amendments to ensure the law will not affect irrigation projects,” Ramesh said.

One change is that a provision for social impact assessment (SIA) — to study the impact of acquisition on the people — will not apply to irrigation projects like dams and canals.

Also, each affected family owning farmland was to be allotted a minimum of an acre if displaced. For other plans, the land losers, if belonging to Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes, would be entitled to land benefits.

The fresh amendment exempt irrigation projects from the land-for-land provision.

The bill had a retrospective clause saying compensation must be paid in line with the proposed law for ongoing projects where the money has not been disbursed. Now, this provision will not cover irrigation projects.

Participating in the discussion earlier, Trinamul’s Derek O’Brien said his party opposed the bill and demanded that the 80 per cent consent norm for private projects be increased to 100 per cent. He also said no multi-crop land should be acquired.

The bill enables states to enhance the consent to 100 per cent if they want.

The BJP’s Vinay Katiyar also demanded a 100 per cent consent rule and objected to a clause that says the land, if unused for five years, will go to a land bank. He said it should be returned to the original farmers.

The CPM’s Sitaram Yechury said provisions for land acquisition under 13 other central acts must be compatible with the present law.

The fourth schedule of the bill lists the 13 laws exempted from the present land acquisition provisions like social impact study and consent norms. The laws include the Atomic Energy Act, Railways Act and the Ancient Monuments Act.

The compensation and rehabilitation package, however, will have to be the same as provided under the land acquisition bill. “I appeal to you to remove the fourth schedule,” Yechury told Ramesh.

Trinamul’s D. Bandyopadhyay — consulted by the Mamata Banerjee government on its land acquisition policy — echoed the view. He stressed the need to avoid multiplicity in provisions for land acquisitions, saying the government should take a uniform view and align the 13 laws with the new provisions.

Samajwadi MP Ramgopal Yadav said the compensation of twice the land’s market value in urban areas and up to four times in rural areas was inadequate. He questioned the 80 per cent consent provision, saying it would affect development projects.

BSP chief Mayawati said interest of tribals and Scheduled Castes should be protected when their land was acquired.

Activists slammed the irrigated-related amendments. “The move to leave out irrigation projects from the realm of SIA and land-for-land provisions is extremely unfortunate. It will hurt farmers, workers, Dalits and tribals most,” said Narmada Bachao Abhiyan leader Medha Patekar.

Madhuresh Kumar of the National Alliance of People Movement said over 3,000 big and small dams were being built on the Narmada and its tributaries alone in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra, affecting five million people.