A Humane Law to replace a 120 years old draconian law

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By B. Achou Sarma

With the onset of the New Year 2014 a humane law in the form of The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 has come to effect from the 1st January 2014 all over India except the State of Jammu and Kashmir. The Act replaces the 120 years old The Land Acquisition Act, 1894, generally labeled the draconian Act. The new law received the assent of the President of India on the 26th of September 2013 and published in the Gazette of India (Extraordinary), New Delhi on 27th September 2013.

The repealed colonial Land Acquisition Act 1894 treats the Indian people as “subjects”; whereas the new The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 will view Indian People as citizens, whose rights are guaranteed under the Constitution. The most significant feature of the new Act is – it combines land acquisition with resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R). Combination (R&R) with land acquisition makes it mandatory for the authority a continuous process of law. Land acquisition therefore, must be followed by R&R. Another most important provision of the Act is Social Impact Assessment (SIA), a practice well established across the globe that has greatly helped carry forward development in more just, transparent inclusive manner. The SIA will assess whether the proposed acquisition serves the public purpose, extent of affected families and member of families likely to be displaced, whether the acquisition is the bare absolute minimum – overall cost of the project vis-a-vis its benefits. The views of the affected families are assiduously recorded and included in the SIA Report. For this purpose public hearing is to be held at the affected area after wide publicity giving sufficient time indicating date, time and venue of the hearing. The SIA Report will be evaluated by an independent multi-disciplinary Expert Group – which shall include two non-official Social Scientists, two representatives of Panchayat, Gram Sabha, Municipality, two experts on rehabilitation, technical expert in the subject relating to the project. If the Expert Group is of the opinion that the project does not serve any public purpose or the social costs and adverse social impacts of the project outweighs the potential benefits, it shall make recommendation that the project be abandoned forthwith.

Other significant aspect of the act is that the consent of the 80% of the landowners is needed for acquiring land for private projects and of 70% landowners for public-private projects. Public purpose as per the Act includes sectors like mining, infrastructure, defence, manufacturing zones, ports, roads, and railways built by the Government and public sector enterprises.

Even in the event the Expert Group gives the go-ahead to the project, the Act contains powerful provisions protecting the interest of project affected families (PAF). Inclusive of 100 percent solatium, compensation for land losers will be twice the market value in urban areas and 2-4 times the market value in rural areas. The exact value in rural areas will be determined through a sliding scale, reflecting the distance of the project from urban areas, the precise scale being left to the State Government to determine.

The PAF will be entitled to a comprehensive R&R package. In irrigation projects each landed PAF will get one acre of land in the command area. SC/ST families will get more, being provided with land equivalent to land acquired, subject to a maximum of 2.5 acres. PAFs will also get fishing rights in the reservoirs. House for house lost will be given in every project. Where jobs are created through the project, PAFs will be entitled to employment. In urbanisation projects 20% of the developed land will be reserved for the land owning PAFs in proportion to the area of their land acquired.

For resettlement of PAFs each resettlement area will be provided a number of facilities which includes roads within the resettled villages and all weather road link to the nearest pucca road, proper drainage and sanitation, assured sources of drinking water including for cattle, grazing land, fair price shops, Panchayat Ghars, village post-office with facilities for saving accounts, transport facilities, seed-cum-fertilizer storage facility, PHSCs within 2 Km range, children play ground, electric connections, schools as per the provisions of Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009, cremation ground, vety service centre, places of worship, community centre, etc.

A strict time-lines within which the land acquisition as well as the R&R process have to be completed are stipulated as – Provision of six months for the SIA process and an overall limit of 35 months for the land acquisition process. Full payment of compensation shall be made within a period of three months and monetary part of R&R will be paid within six months from the date of the Award. It has been provided that in case of irrigation and hydro-power projects R&R shall be completed six months prior to submergence.

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