Event ReportsPublished on Jan 20, 2010
Experts stress upon amending the Land Acquisition Act, Ask for making rehabilitation a duty of the State
Mega Project Development: Issues in Land Acquisition

Land acquisition for various development works is a common practice in most parts of the country. More recently, this phenomenon has picked up pace boosting the national growth. A notable example of the land acquisition exercise is of farm lands for the creation of special economic zones. The procedures involved in the acquisition of land and its development are, however, widely criticised by the land developers, social activists and the local population, many of whom are adversely affected in numerous ways. Furthermore, the Indian government realises that acquisition of land is a major impediment affecting the country’s development.

Taking note of the critical problems and challenges experienced by various stakeholders in the acquisition of land for the development of mega projects, the Observer Research Foundation organised a seminar on “Mega Project Development: Issues in Land Acquisition” on January 20, 2010 at its New Delhi campus. The objective of the seminar was to deliberate on the issues, and to arrive at realistic policy guidelines and strategies required for the acquisition of land and its development so that the grievances of affected parties are addressed in the best possible manner.

In the first session, the problems and challenges in land acquisition were discussed by representatives from the private sector, government and the civil society. The second session dealt with evolving appropriate policies and strategies.

Mr. Surendra Singh, President, ORF Centre for Politics and Governance initiated the proceedings with a brief yet comprehensive overview of the various issues and divergent viewpoints that have dominated the debate on Land Acquisition in India. This then led to the first session of the conference which was titled ‘Problems and Challenges in Land Acquisition for Mega Project Development’. Dr. Usha Ramanathan served as discussant for this session.

Mr. Shailesh Pathak, MD, PE Indian Infrastructure Fund and Mr. Sanjeev Aggarwal, CEO, AES (India) Pvt. Ltd. presented the experiences of the private sector in dealing with Land Acquisition (LA) issues in India. Mr. Pathak in his presentation questioned the need for government intervention in private sector deals on the issue. He also raised the issue of sharing the upside of increased land value due to project development. Sharing his experience of a power project being developed in Chattisgarh state, Mr. Sanjeev Aggarwal pointed out numerous difficulties involved in acquiring land, such as displacement of a high proportion of population dependent on land, fragmented ownership, absence or incomplete ownership records, antiquated land acquisition (LA) laws, illegal occupations on government land, corrupt practices, etc.

Dr. Didar Singh, IAS, Former Addl. Secretary, Department of Road Transport and Highways and Mr. T Sham Bhatt, IAS, CEO, Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board (KIADB) presented the experiences of the government sector on this issue. Dr. Singh stressed upon the need to understand the theory behind land acquisition according to which the concept of compulsory land acquisition emanates from the theory of eminent domain of the State.

Dr. Singh’s argument to this effect was the current practice of taking over of land without the owner’s consent. He also pointed out the difference between ‘public use’ and ‘public purpose’, and called for greater clarity of the two concepts. Giving the example of US, it was stated that property rights are protected by explicitly mandating compensation and using the term ‘public use’ (defined along the lines of public safety, health, interest or convenience) rather than ‘public purpose’. On the other hand, in the UK common law system, eminent domain allows for land acquisition for ‘public purpose’, and unfortunately this concept is followed throughout Commonwealth, including India. In his opinion the major policy and institutional constraints in land acquisition are: no provision of payment of solatium and interest is provided in the LA Act, no time limit for award of compensation, no provision for de-notification of excess land, no provision of time limit for filing the cases for arbitration, and absence of a market valuation methodology, inadequate manpower with the land acquisition units, etc.

Mr. Bhatt talked about the innovative measures which KIADB had undertaken to acquire land in Karnataka and the differences between the Act that instituted the KIADB and India’s current Land acquisition Act. He particularly highlighted how unlike the current act, the KIADB Act had no time limit for acquisition between primary and final notification. More importantly, the KIADB stipulates the creation of a price advisory committee for compensation.

Mr. Kannan Kasturi, an independent researcher and activist, gave his views on the issue as a member of civil society. He argued that Land Acquisition laws in India were still based on a colonial framework and provided for forcible land acquisition. He stated that the current modifications to the law were not adequate and has only enlarged the scope of the government. He highlighted this by indicating that the current law equated involuntary displacement with displacement by calamities or acts of god. He felt that serious reforms would only take place if people were made stakeholders of the project as well.

Dr. Usha Ramanathan concluded the session by giving a detailed summary of the issues raised in the session. She also gave her own views on the subject, which included questioning the lack of consequences for non-performance by entities that took land for Mega Projects and failed to deliver. Dr. Ramanathan also called for more detailed assessments of the impact on human rights from Land Acquisition and highlighted the increasing sense of insecurity amongst the people whose land is used in Mega project development. She also stressed upon the need to make the duty of the state to ensure proper rehabilitation of those whose land has been acquired or who have been ousted from the land. This was followed by a lively and interactive discussion amongst the panelists and other participants.

The second session of the conference was titled ‘Towards Evolving an Appropriate Strategy on Land Acquisition’ and dealt with the methodologies that could be formulated to meet the challenges faced in Land Acquisition. Mr. Pradeep Jain, Minister of State, Rural Development, was present on this occasion. Mr. D. Raja Member of Parliament (CPI) was also present for the interaction. Dr. Basudeb Chaudhuri, Director, CSH, New Delhi served as discussant. The session was chaired by Mr. Surendra Singh.

Mr. Singh opened the session with a brief overview of the highlights of the previous session, before opening the floor to the rest of the panelists. The presenters for this session were Mr. Nayan Raheja (Director, Raheja Builders), Dr. Ambika Nanda (UNDP) and IIM Ahmedabad Professor Sebastian Morris.

Mr. Raheja began the session with a presentation on the experiences his company had in the development of the Raheja SEZ in Gurgaon. He highlighted how Raheja Builders adopted innovative methods to deal with some of the challenges faced in Land Acquisition for development projects. This included purchasing the land independently without government support, and by making some of the land-owners partners in project development.

Dr. Ambika Nanda talked about the engagement of the UNDP with the Government of Orissa on the issue of land acquisition. He talked about how in collaboration with the government and industrial entrepreneurs, the UNDP had formulated a comprehensive policy on rehabilitation and resettlement for people displaced by industrial projects. While he admitted that the policy had not been implemented in its entirety and there were several hurdles to overcome; real progress was visible on the ground.

Prof. Sebastian Morris stated that problem of land aggregators, lack of clarity in defining eminent domain and public purpose, and little or no rationality in land titles in India were some of the major issues in the land markets in India. He also had serious reservations on the issue of land valuation where the government itself was in charge of determining the ‘fair value’ of land it was to acquire. To tackle these issues, he suggested that the present Land Acquisition Law be significantly amended or replaced entirely.

Dr. Chaudhuri concluded the session by summing up the issues raised during the proceedings. He also highlighted some of the issues raised by the presenters and how they impacted India’s ability to continue its remarkable growth story. This was followed by another lively interactive session in which the strategies raised by the presenters were discussed in greater detail.

Moving the vote of thanks, Mr. Sunjoy Joshi, Distinguished Fellow, ORF gave assurance that all suggestions put forward by the participants in the conference would be documented and widely disseminated by the ORF.

The report has been prepared by Hemant Nair, Consultant at ORF and Sony Kunjappan, PhD scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University

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