A Compromise over Land

In an Op Ed published in today’s New Indian Express, I analyse the provisions of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, recently passed by both Houses of Parliament. I argue that the Bill remedies with varying success three out of the four main problems experienced with the application of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.  I note that the ever-expanding definition of “public purpose” for which land could be forcibly acquired, the misuse of the “urgency” clause, massive displacement of poor peasants and traditional communities with inadequate or no compensation, and delays in completion of acquisition procedures, were principally responsible for the injustices caused by acquisition under the 1894 Act. I then describe how and to what extent the Bill remedies these problems. Finally, I raise concerns with certain provisions of the Bill, particularly the exemption clause. I conclude as follows:

 “Land acquisition is inevitably a controversial issue in nations with land scarcity which are trying to achieve rapid economic development through greater industrialisation. India is no exception. The Bill passed in Parliament is a compromise between various conflicting interests. So, it hasn’t pleased anyone completely. Yet compromise is intrinsic to the nature of a constitutional democracy. The Land Acquisition Bill is a step in the right direction for ushering in a culture of justification, wherein the government is required to explain and engage with the people it dispossesses of their land and livelihood of the legitimacy and necessity of such dispossession. Ultimately, however, the text of the law, though empowering in many ways, can only go so far in ensuring fairness in land acquisition proceedings. The real test is its effective implementation. But for that, we need serious institutional reform at all levels.”

The full text of the Op Ed can be accessed here. My previous writings on the Land Acquisition Bill can be accessed here.

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