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Draft rules set timeline for land acquisition

New Delhi, Nov. 26: Draft rules set to replace a 19th-century law on acquiring land have given state governments a year to complete formalities like securing consent and handing out compensation, a timeline experts and industry said was rather ambitious.

According to the rules, prepared under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, governments will have to wrap up within six months the process of assessing the social impact of a project and getting signed consent letters from land-losers.

Another six months have been given for completing the compensation process.

The department of land resources, under the rural development ministry, has sent the draft rules to the law ministry. Once the law ministry clears them, they will be notified. The new law, passed by Parliament in the last session, is set to come into effect from January 1, replacing the British-era 1894 Land Acquisition Act.

According to the new rules (see chart), the formalities before acquisition involve three steps: Social Impact Assessment (SIA), consent of landowners and compensation and rehabilitation.

Under the SIA, the first stage in the takeover process, the local administration has to assess the impact of the proposed project on key areas like livelihoods, health and culture.

The administration will also have to take into account the likely effect of the takeover on women.

N.C. Saxena, a member of the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council who was involved in drafting the new law, said the timeline was not feasible. “I don’t think it can be done that fast. The SIA is a lengthy process. The administration has to hold public hearings to assess the impact of the project. Consent is an equally lengthy process because you have to give time for people to take decisions.”

Saxena said the “concept of consent” would affect industrial growth. “It will be very difficult to get the consent of 70 per cent owners or 80 per cent owners.”

Under the new law, the consent of 70 per cent of landowners and people on government-assigned land — those allotted land under government schemes — has to be taken for acquiring plots for public-private partnership (PPP) projects, while 80 per cent of owners must give their consent for private projects. The rules say consent has to be obtained through signed declaration.

Ekata Parishad, an organisation fighting against involuntary land acquisition, said one year was too little for completing the formalities. “In one year, you have to rush through the process. The administration will ignore genuine concerns of the people,” spokesperson Anees said.

Industry body CII also voiced reservations on the timeline. “Our assessment is that it will take 36 months at least. Six months for the SIA and consent is not practical. It is too ambitious,” said a spokesperson for the confederation.

The CII’s suggestion to increase the five-year period for returning unutilised land had been rejected. “Projects come up in phases. It takes more than five years. If land is returned after five years, it will affect the growth of the project,” the spokesperson added.

An official with the land resources department said the draft rules had been prepared after consultations with industry bodies, civil society groups and state governments.