Ground rules

The proposed land bill will make transactions fairer and encourage optimal use of the resource

In this session, Parliament will take up the necessary and long-delayed Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill. Both major parties have worked out a consensus on the features of the bill. As with any compromise between different interest groups, the bill does not please everyone perfectly, but it finally sets down reasonable terms for the exchange, and replaces the 119-year-old Land Acquisition Act that has harshly governed transactions so far. Public purpose has been defined and limited, and the state can step in to acquire land for private and PPP projects only if 80 per cent of the stakeholders are agreed.

Land acquisition being a concurrent subject, each state is free to shape its own legislation. But this Central bill seeks to end the coercive takeovers of the past, and also recognises the legitimate demands of "infrastructure development, industrialisation and urbanisation". It has to address the rising expectations of land-owners and the opportunity cost of land, but there is no getting away from the fact that industries and cities make more productive use of the resource than farming does. This bill has accommodated both imperatives. By making buyers pay more twice the market value in urban areas and four times in rural ones the debate will shift to one of fair compensation, rehabilitation and stakes, rather than sentimental stories of exploitation and grievance. A social impact assessment will consider the benefits of the project as well as those directly affected, and set rehabilitation and resettlement expectations within a strict time-frame. While industry may complain about having to pay more, it must welcome the end of bitter struggles over each acquisition. Already, in states like Punjab and Haryana, land acquisition is relatively friction-free because they have instituted fairer compensation to those who are parting with their land. This legislation, if passed, will not only increase the availability of land, it will make the process smoother and more stress-free for everyone concerned.

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