Author : Niranjan Sahoo

Originally Published 2012-01-02 00:00:00 Published on Jan 02, 2012
The Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation & Resettlement (LARR) Bill 2011 is the single most important piece of 'legislation in waiting' for very long time. The Bill is a major improvement over the archaic 1894 land law that has contributed to most of the impasse over land acquisitions.
Time for New Land Acquisition Regime
The Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation & Resettlement (LARR) Bill 2011 is the single most important piece of ’legislation in waiting’ for very long time. The previous version of this bill, that was drafted way back in 2007 and got the Lok Sabha approval in 2009, was allowed to lapse for reasons known to the government. But now there are growing murmurs in various circles to get this important bill passed at the earliest. If one gauges the mood of the present government, particularly the Union Minister for Rural Development, and strong concerns expressed by many law makers from opposition parties during the just concluded winter session of Parliament, the proposed legislation is gaining crucial bipartisan support for its clearance. In addition, with news reports citing cases of hundreds of projects many of which are critical infrastructure ones being caught up in land acquisition woes, the ruling coalition making land acquisition reform one of their key initiatives in upcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh, there are reasons to be pragmatic about the fate of this critical bill in 2012.

Key Features
The LARR Bill 2011 in its current form is a major improvement over the archaic 1894 land law that has contributed to most of the impasse over land acquisitions. By combining both compensations and rehabilitation, and resettlement into a single bill, the government finally has made some honest efforts to recognize the neglected components of land acquisition which are the key reasons for protests and opposition by farmers and other landowners across the country. Having inserted a clear provision of executing R&R package before the land is acquired is a significant departure over the previous draft. Other additional features make the bill more holistic: equity participation; annuity; and most importantly, providing compensation and R&R benefits for other stakeholders who are dependent on land for their livelihood. Finally, having reposed some faith in participatory grassroots institutions such as Gram Sabha and for proposing a legal and institutional framework for dispute settlements, the bill makes for a fresh start for a better land acquisition regime in the country.

Yet despite its various good features and new institutional or governance architecture, the proposed law still fails to address many of the vexed issues of land acquisition. It squarely fails to read the land market which is witnessing major transformation, thanks to rapid changes in economy, industry and urbanization in the country. The new bill makes little effort to address the contentious issues of ’public purpose, compensation (pricing formula and institutional mechanisms to determine the same), regulatory issues, among others. Its other indulgences-such as arbitrary ban on multi-crop irrigated land-are fret with many serious negative consequences that if unaddressed can further vitiate the political economy around land.

New Land Regime and its Challenges

Even as the government clears some of these policy loopholes and contradictions, the new legislation would not see the day light as it would face uphill challenges from many fronts. Major challenges emanate from the state’s poor track records of implementing key legislations. In the absence of strong doses of administrative and structural changes in the nature of a governance system, the new law would remain without teeth. As of today, despite many promises (including the publication of Second Administrative Commission report 2007), much of the structural issues including transparency, accountability and sensitivity are yet to be addressed at both state and central levels. Most of the service delivery institutions either compete or work with varying purposes and often without having a ’head" that can control the body. These institutions still remain very much in colonial moorings and would fail by miles to capture the good intentions of this important legislation. Unless there is a paradigm shift in the state’s approach and legal framework (including judicial reforms) in addressing various contentious issues relating to land acquisition, the issue will continue to remain the Achilles heel for India’s crucial transition from an agrarian society to a genuine industrial power. Moreover, with land assuming the role of a critical asset in the changing political economy, it has increasingly come under the radar of politicians, businesspeople, officials, and other interest parties. The new legislation would struggle hard to overcome the challenges coming from these groups. To reiterate: Unless there is fundamental transformation in the way the state runs its administrative apparatus and delivers services, and unless concerned officials at the local level are sufficiently sensitized and tuned to the new reality of pro-people governance-and unless this critical sector is freed from the clutches of political control and official discretions-even the best of legislations would not make any headway to break the logjam in the ongoing impasse.

(See the detailed paper on major challenges facing new land acquisition regime - In Search of a Model Land Legislation: The New Land Acquisition Bill and its Challenges)

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Niranjan Sahoo

Niranjan Sahoo

Niranjan Sahoo, PhD, is a Senior Fellow with ORF’s Governance and Politics Initiative. With years of expertise in governance and public policy, he now anchors ...

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