'A few people will pay a higher cost for the benefit a larger number of people'

Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh is reaching out to every MP in the Rajya Sabha to support the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011. The Bill, passed in the Lok Sabha on Thursday, is likely to be taken up in the Upper House on Tuesday.

Ramesh believes amendment of the 1894 Act was essential and the Bill will change the process of land acquisition in the country. In an interview to Business Line, he said a Bill that is good for tribals, Dalits, and farmers will benefit the country, too.

Excerpts from the interview:

How will you allay the apprehensions of industry over the Bill’s provisions?

A few people will pay a higher cost that will benefit a larger number of people. I don’t think anybody should grudge this. The 1894 Act has been misused not just by private industries, but by the Government, too.

Any Bill that protects the interests of farmers, tribals, and Dalits losers has to be in the interest of the country. Any Bill that closes the door on forcible acquisition is in the interest of the country. You have to judge the Bill in its totality. We need to recognise the historical injustices that resulted from the 1894 Act.

Will the cost of acquisition go up? Yes. Will the time taken up for acquisition go up? Not necessarily. If the timelines stipulated in the Bill are followed, the time taken for the acquisition will not go up. Will the acquisition will be more humane? Yes. Will acquisition prevent long-term agitations? Yes.

How will this Bill help in the industrialisation process?

This Bill kicks in only when industry wants the Government to acquire land. We have amended the Bill to say that the rehabilitation and resettlement provisions are left entirely to the State government. In fact, this Bill will result in more private purchases.

Ultimately, 20 years from now, we shouldn’t have a Land Acquisition Act. We expect by then our land records will be good, farmers better educated and there would be direct transactions between the buyers and the sellers. This Bill is a transitional measure, as 20-25 years from now we expect a situation where the industry can go and buy land whenever it wants to.

What will be the social impact of this legislation, particularly where there is unrest over acquisition?

Tribals will be more empowered. Gram sabhas will be more empowered to take decisions. It will be wrong to think that tribals don’t want economic development. They want development on their terms, not on terms what we decide is good for them.

Farmers will certainly benefit, as the compensation will be four times what they are getting now.

So far, the most progressive legislation for the tribals was the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, that talks of consultation with gram sabhas during acquisition. We have gone a step further. We are talking about consent. If gram sabhas say no, why should a company go there and mine bauxite at Niyamgiri?

For the first time, livelihood-losers and their rights are recognised by this Bill.

So far, rehabilitation and resettlement have been only a policy. This is for the first time in 65 years that rehabilitation and resettlement are put into an Act.


(This article was published on August 30, 2013)
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