Land bill in cabinet today, changes propose retrospective application

Amendments to the contentious land acquisition Bill not only seek to hasten the acquisition process through tight time-schedules but also contain a provision that virtually allows the law to be applied retrospectively to cases that witnessed protests in the past.

The union cabinet is due to discuss the amendments to the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill on Thursday.

The changes suggest that the new law will be applicable to all ongoing land acquisition proceedings where "no award" has been made under the existing Land Acquisition Act, 1894. It also says the compensation package of the new law will apply even in cases where payments have been announced but possession of the land has not been taken or compensation has not been paid to the owner.

In a provision that could prove controversial, the amendments contain an explanation stressing that all cases where compensation has not been accepted or has been accepted under protest will be "deemed to be unpaid".

The explanation also says that the compensation will be deemed paid only if it has been credited in the bank account of the land owner.

Another proposal in the amendments says all cases of acquisition will be deemed to have lapsed if possession of the land has not been taken or compensation not paid for at least five years before the new law comes into force even though a payment has been announced.

Top government sources said that the finance ministry objected to this provision during consultations in the Group of Ministers. The ministry is learnt to have argued that announcement of compensation amounted to completion of the acquisition as possession and payment were merely administrative issues.

Another contentious change proposed says land acquired under the urgency clause can be used for other emergencies only with Parliament approval except in cases linked to "defence of India or national security or for any emergencies arising out of natural calamities". The original bill did not require the approval of Parliament for such cases.

In another major change, the revised bill seeks to reserve 20 per cent of land for those whose land is being acquired for "urbanisation purposes". This provision will bind state governments to reserve land acquired for expansion of cities.

In an attempt to allay the fears of industry that the new law could stretch the acquisition process, the amendments seek to tighten the time-frame for completing the entire process to within one year from two years in the original bill. Clear schedules for the various assessments required for acquisition have also been proposed.

The revised bill stipulates 80 per cent consent for acquisition for private projects, 70 per cent consent for PPP projects and no consent for infrastructure projects fully owned and executed by the government. Acquired land will be returned to owners if it is not used for five years instead of the earlier 10 years.

Deo: Forest dwellers' rights being violated

Tribal Affairs Minister V Kishore Chandra Deo has lamented that the Environment Ministry fails to ensure the process of granting land ownership to tribals under the Forest Rights Act is completed before allowing forest land to be diverted for industrial projects. In a letter to Jayanthi Natarajan, Deo has said the FRA is not "anti-development". "Some may argue FRA compliance will delay projects. This does not appear correct. In fact, it is ignoring and violating rights of forest dwellers that will lead to delays, litigation and conflict. We only have to see the large number of projects that are stalled by protests and court cases to understand that 'short-cuts' benefit no one, in addition to being illegal." ENS

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