Land Acquisition Ordinance: The Current Status

In a sudden turn of events, there might be a possibility of the opposition Congress to score a victory in the Land Acquisition Bill controversy that sparked debate last December. While giving in to the demands by Congress and TMC members for more time to study certain clauses threadbare, Former Union Minister and BJP Lawmaker S S Ahluwalia, panel Chairman for the Joint Committee of the Parliament, decided that the Committee should not submit its report in this session ending on 13th August and instead do so in the first week of the Winter Session. The meeting on 10th August was expected to evolve consensus on three key provisions including the one on return of unutilised land to its owners after five years and the retrospective clause. However, only the retrospective clause was taken up briefly during which the Congress members vociferously opposed any change in provision 24 (2) of the UPA Act, which has been diluted in the NDA Bill.

The Government, on the other hand has now come around to the view, after consulting legal experts that that there is actually no need for any drastic change to the 2013 law.

Legal experts have brought to the notice of the Govt., a drafting error or mere oversight which has left a significant chink giving a considerable leeway to industry. The UPA’s controversial LARR 2013 does not make consent mandatory for land acquisition, as Sec. 2(1) of the Act provides for land acquisition, compensation, rehabilitation and resettlement but clearly skips the word ‘consent’, which is mentioned in Sec. 2(2). Consent is not only missing from this crucial provision but also the extent of consent required, as elaborated in detail in Section 2.2[1] of the Act, is not mentioned.

The government reckons this means land can be acquired under this provision for all infrastructure sectors notified by the department of economic affairs barring private hospitals, hotels and educational institutions. Thus land required for agro processing industries, projects for industrial corridors, national investment and manufacturing zones and housing can be acquired sans prior consent, as per the government’s latest interpretation of the 2013 Act. Thus, effectively government can acquire land and while keeping the ownership with itself lease plots for development of industry.

Interestingly, a way out has also been provided by Section 109 of the Act by allowing “appropriate government” to make rules by way of notifications with regard to provisions of the Act including consent and social impact assessment.

This means, as per the fresh legal opinion received by the government, that states have the power to make rules accordingly.

[1] Section 2.2 of the Act specifically mentions requirement of consent while also elaborating on the extent to which it is required. In the case of private companies, consent of at least 80% of land owners will be required while in case of public private partnership projects at least 70% of Consent of at least 80% of land owners will be required while in case of public private partnership projects at least 70% of consent is must.

(Blogger: Suparna Jain)