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Land bill may take a new shape as slew of acts limits scope

Nistula Hebbar, New Delhi, The Financial Express

April 28, 2012

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The Land Acquisition Bill 2011, which seeks to facilitate industrialisation without hurting farmers' interests, keeps many important sectors out of its purview and should be made far more inclusive to serve the stated purpose of making available land for development projects, feels majority of the members of the parliamentary standing committee concerned. Their views are likely to reflect in the panel's report, necessitating major changes in the provisions of the Bill and potentially delaying its passage, sources familiar with the committee's deliberations told FE.

The standing committee on rural development looking into the provisions of the momentous Bill, is likely to table its report in the House by May 11 as scheduled, but its views could lead to a reformulation of the Bill, these sources said.

Members' objections to the Bill in its present form is primarily because of the exemptions sought to be accorded to virtually 90% of projects for which land can be - or need to be - acquired for industrial and urbanisation projects under a uniform set of norms. These include highways, nuclear plants, mines, special economic zones (SEZ), etc, where there are separate laws dealing with land acquisition issues.

These exemptions are detailed in sections 97, 98 and 99 of the Bill. Section 97 states that the provisions of the Bill shall not be in derogation of any other law in force, which means the proposed law won't supersede the extant ones with respect to these specific sectors.

As per Section 98, the Bill's provisions shall not apply to the enactments relating to land acquisition specified in the Fourth Schedule of the Constitution. The Fourth Schedule encompasses 16 Acts, including the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958, the Atomic Energy Act 1962, the Cantonments Act, 2006, the Metro Railways (Construction of Works) Act, 1978, the National Highways Act, 1956, the SEZ Act, 2005, the Railways Act, 1989 and the Works of Defence Act, 1903.

With most of the land acquisition happening in mining, power and other infrastructure sectors, even Congress members, including former panchayati raj minister Mani Shankar Aiyer have a problem with the exclusions that the Bill allows.

Another issue highlighted by the standing committee members pertains to the definition of "public purpose".

The Bill seeks to support private acquisition for public purpose. According to some members, the definition that land can be acquired by a private developer if 80% of owners acquiesce does not differentiate clearly between purely private and public private projects.

Committee chief Sumitra Mahajan said the committee "discussed every provision" with all stakeholders. "We are meeting next week to finalise the recommendations," she said.

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