The amendments to the India’s Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Act 2013 (hereinafter referred to as RFCLARR, for short) have been in the news ever since the new government came into power in India in May 2014. The controversy heightened in December 2014 when the government issued an ordinance bringing forth critical changes to the law, made applicable with immediate effect. Foremost in this, were exemptions from consent and social impact assessment (SIA) related clauses for wide range of industrial and infrastructure projects (See here and here).
Since then, the amendments to the RFCLARR Act have been pushed through the both by an ordinance route and also by a Bill introduced in the Parliament. It has seen serious political debates, street protests and litigation in the Supreme Court of India (See here, here and here). This is because both the ordinance (issued three times) and Bill bring in exceptions to the projects for which consent and SIA clauses would be applicable; diluted the clauses allowing for repatriation of unused land and other important amendments which go against the very objectives of the law (See here and here).
The RFCLARR was passed in 2013, overhauling the colonial, oft referred to as draconian Land Acquisition Act of 1894. Important aspects of the 2013 reform was:
• Bringing together the processes of acquisition as well as R&R, which had not been the case earlier.
• Establishing in its preambular text principles of “ humane, participative, informed and transparent process”; “least disturbance to the owners of the land and other affected families” and “providing just and fair compensation.” • Expanding the definition of public purpose to include acquisition for private sector projects (when land continues to be vested with the government).
Other important provisions of the RFCLARR Act of 2013 are: • Consent of 80% of the land owners for private project and 70 % for public private partnership projects before any acquistion. • Introduction of Social Impact Assessments to determine public purpose, ascertain affected people as well as inform R&R. • Limitations on irrigated multi crop land to be acquired only as a last priority beyond a limit specified by the government. • If land acquired remains unutilised for five years from taking possession, it must be returned to the original owners or a land bank. • Calculating compensations based on market value of land as baseline (formula for both urban and rural areas and including additional values and solatium costs).
While several people’s movements had welcomed these changes; some state governments, industrial associations and the present central government stated that the 2013 law would delay acquisitions and thereby economic “development.” What followed was a tussle between the new government trying to get the amendments through the Parliament and the opposition parties, farmers unions, civil society groups and activists trying to stop these changes from taking affect.
When consensus could not be arrived at in the Parliament, a 30 members joint parliamentary committee (JPC) was formed to look into the amendments to The RFCLARR Act, 2013. @manjumenon and @kanchikohli made two formal submissions and also deposed as witnesses before the committee with analysis and specific suggestions. The committee is yet to submit its final report to the partliament but is has said to recommended that SIA and consent related clauses be retained in the law (See: here and here).
For now, the government has agreed to not re-promulgate the ordinance keeping in mind the widespread opposition to the amendments, especially from farmers groups and as the report of the JPC also awaited (See here).
The third ordinance on the RFCLARR, lapsed on 31st August, 2015. Just days before the government passed an executive order dated 29th August 2015 which can be accessed here). With this the provisions of compensation, rehabilitation and resettlement in the RFCLARR are to be made applicable to 13 other central Acts under which land acquisition takes place in India. The 2013 law had also provided for such a decision to notified within one year of the act being in place. But this was to be done after determining which of the RFCLARR clauses would be more “beneficial” and not replace any better provisions already existing in these 13 laws. Some of these legislations are The Land Acquisition (Mines) Act, 1885, The Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Act, 1957, National Highways Act, 1956 etc. (See: here and here).
Other than this one change, all other provisions of the 2013 law (some of which are discussed earlier) are in place and to be implemented as on date. The issue might come to light once again when the JPC submits its report, which will be tabled in the winter session of the Parliament, later this year.
Look forward to your thoughts, insights and responses on the debate. Kanchi