MUMBAI: Union Minister for Rural Development Shri Jairam Ramesh today allayed the fears expressed by the Indian industry that the new Land Acquisition Act would make projects economically unviable. Addressing a Press Conference in Mumbai on Sunday, Shri Ramesh said the new act applies only to the land acquired by Central and State authorities for any public purpose, while there is no bar whatsoever, on purchase of private land. He said “industry must look beyond land acquisition by Government and explore land purchase opportunities. In fact, in 20 years from now, there should only be land purchases and no land acquisition”.
Reiterating his stand that land acquisition should become an act of last resort, Shri Ramesh said his Ministry has been working towards improving land records management in the country and promoting transparency in land sales. He informed that Rs 1000 crore National Land Record Modernization Programme is being implemented with focus on computerization of land records, digitization of maps and resurvey. He said Maharashtra has progressed well but is yet to catch up with Haryana, Gujarat, Karnataka and Tripura.
Shri Ramesh said a Bill seeking amendment to the Registration Act of 1908 has been introduced in Parliament, which when passed, will put all land sales and registration records in public domain. “When transparency increases, it will become easier for corporate to purchase land” he observed.
Speaking about the SEZs, the Rural Development Minister said all land acquisition for future SEZs will be in accordance with the new act. He however admitted that the Act presently has no provision to deal with denotified SEZs. Shri Ramesh termed the new act, which replaces 119 year old act as ‘historic’. “The 1894 Act was undemocratic as it vested enormous discretionary powers in the hands of District Collectors. On the contrary, the new act is humane, its thrust is on rehabilitation and resettlement, and if any act promotes the welfare of tribals and marginal farmers, it is in national interest” he asserted. He said to represent this spirit the new act has been re-christened as the “Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act.”
“I believe that the old law was anti-democratic as governments used to buy land from people at lower price and sell it to business houses at a premium rate. The collector decided the urgency, the amount of compensation and resettlement provisions if any. Hence the old act created public anger nationwide and was the reason behind mass movements on land issues in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat along with Odisha” said the Minister.
He elaborated that under the new act the powers of the Collectors, who often acted under the instructions of state governments have been considerably curtailed. The purpose of land acquisition has been clearly spelt out and major emphasis has been laid on rehabilitation and resettlement. He said that consent of Gram Sabha in Schedule V areas – mostly tribal dominated areas, and consultation with Gram Sabha in other areas, has been made mandatory. The Minister further added, that if the Government failed to utilize the land so acquired for public purpose within five years, it will be required to return the land to its owners.
The Minister also said that the new Act promises fair compensation for the farmers and those who lose their lands. “Land is still considered the biggest social security in India. Since they will be dispossessed of their assets, they are entitled for a fair and just compensation” he said. The new act stipulates that compensation will be paid at twice the rate of three year average of highest selling price in urban areas and up to four times the average highest sale price in rural areas. In addition, there is also a provision of leasing the land instead of selling it, thereby opting to receive a regular income over a longer period of time.
The Minister said the new law has been made under the concurrent list of the Constitution and States could only improve upon the quantum of compensation as well as other provisions in favour of the land owners and farmers. He said it would be notified either on January 1, 2014 or April 1, 2014 and appealed to all state governments to implement it in right spirit.