Draft LARR Bill 2011 : Seeking to Legalise Land Grab

(We are grateful for insights provided by Pranab De's note on the Draft LARR Bill 2011.)

airam Ramesh has been declaring that the LARR Bill, proposed to replace the notorious 1894 Land Acquisition Act, is a result of Rahul Gandhi’s deep concern and padyatra for farmers facing land grab. The truth is that even the original draft Bill seriously compromised farmers’ interests. But now the version of the Bill approved by the UPA Cabinet has backtracked even further.  
Private Profit=Public Purpose
One of the most serious issues in land acquisition has been that governments have been declaring private projects (such as the Tata’s Nano factory at Singur) to be for ‘public purpose’ in order to justify land grab. The LARR Bill proposes to legalise this ploy. Its definition of ‘Public Purpose’ includes PPP projects and land for private companies as long as they “for the production of public goods or the provision of public services.”
In fact, the preamble to the LARR Bill omits to stipulate that land acquisition is to be for ‘public purpose’ – it quite openly declares that land acquisition is necessary for ‘urbanisation’ and ‘infrastructure’ development. Having made it clear that the main purpose of the Bill is to facilitate such land grab, it adds that such acquisition must be ‘balanced’ with the interests of farmers! Why should the Rural Development Ministry propose a law to facilitate urbanization? No answer!   
Forced Acquisition
As a measure against forced acquisition, the Bill proposes that land acquisition by the Government for private companies will be possible only on for securing the “prior informed consent of 80% of the project-affected families.” However, this consent clause will not apply when Government acquires land for its own use (eg for railways, highways, ports, power and irrigation projects). The rationale of restricting consent to ‘80%’ is also unjust and discriminates among project-affected families. Acquisition without consent – i.e forced land grab - must be disallowed completely.
Protecting Agricultural Land?
In the original draft Bill, multi-crop irrigated land was completely out of bounds for acquisition. But the Cabinet version withdraws this protection, allowing up to 5 percent of multi-crop irrigated area in a district to be acquired “as a demonstrably last resort measure.” Moreover, this restriction on acquisition of multi-crop land “shall not apply in the case of linear projects (such as Railways, highways, Major District Roads, power lines, and irrigation canals).” In a case like the Yamuna Expressway, therefore, no such restriction would apply.
Also the Bill is not clear on how ‘multi-crop irrigated’ land will be identified. We have seen how at Singur, multi-crop, well-watered land was declared to be single-crop by the government in order to justify acquisition.
In fact, in the interests of food security and people’s rights, there must be severe restrictions on the acquisition, not just of multi-crop land, but of all cultivable land or forest land.
Meagre Compensation
The Bill takes land acquisition as an inevitability, and has no provision for ensuring ‘land for land’ compensation. It is true that in some parts of the country, struggles around land acquisition are mainly for enhanced compensation. But in the bulk of the cases, the struggles are outright against acquisition. In such cases, the land losers stipulate that if at all they have to give up their land, monetary ‘compensation’ is useless. They must get cultivable land in exchange for the land lost. But according to the LARR Bill, the land loser will only get a one-time amount rather than cultivable land in some alternative location.
Only in the case of SC/ST land losers, the Bill proposes “2.5 acres of land or extent of land lost to each family in every project” and “In case of irrigation project 1 acre in the command area.”
The Bill’s main claim of being pro-farmer rests on the fact that it purports to fix generous compensation, based on multiples of the market value (based on average sale deed in the area) of the land. But this ‘generosity’ is suspect. In the first place, it is well known how sale deeds deliberately suppress the actual market value.
The original draft Bill had said that the amount awarded as compensation in rural areas would be “not less than six times the original market value”. The Cabinet version now amends this to “not less than four times” the market value.
R&R Farce
The rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) provisions proposed by the Bill are laughably inadequate.
According to the Bill, the value of employment equals just a one-time payment of Rs 5 lakh or Rs 2000 per month for 20 years! Plus, this provision too is a case of backtracking even on the meager promise made in the original draft Bill. In the original bill, in addition to Rs 2000 annuity, there was a provision of one job per affected family or Rs 2 lakh. Now, the project-affected must choose between either annuity of Rs 2000 for 20 years, or Rs 5 lakh or a job!
Moreover, in the case of private companies buying land, R&R provisions apply only where a private company is purchasing land for a project which is more than 100 acres in rural areas or more than 50 acres in urban areas. This is absolutely unacceptable. The pain of displacement is the same for every single affected family, and the 50 acre-100acre stipulation must go.    
The original Bill had provided that “land will not be transferred until R&R is completed.” The Cabinet version has made a subtle but significant change: it now reads, “No involuntary displacement will take place without completion of R&R.” 
Unused Land
The original Bill had proposed that acquired land that remained unused for 5 years would be returned to the owners. That proposal has vanished in the Cabinet version. Now, the proposal is that acquired land that is not used within 10 years in accordance with the purposes for which it was acquired at the time of acquisition, shall be transferred to the State Government’s Land Bank.
Social Impact Assessment
The draft Bill does provide for a system of ‘Social Impact Assessment’ to be conducted by the government and examined by an independent ‘Expert Group.’ The SIA is supposed to establish whether the extent of land proposed to be acquired is the bare minimum, and whether alternate sites are available, as well as to study the impact of the acquisition.
Loss of livelihood is not mentioned in the scope of the SIA. Above all, the question arises, what say will the affected themselves have in assessing the social impact? The SIA provides for “Gram Sabha to be consulted” only, and does not mandate that the Gram Sabha’s views be mandatorily taken into account. Rather, recommendation of the Gram Sabha, in presence of at least 80% of its members, must be mandatory for any notification of acquisition.

It is clear from the above that the Bill simply seeks to camouflage and veil the whole issue of land grab which has emerged as an explosive political issue in the past several years. Cutting through all the camouflage, we must demand that the Bill in its present form be withdrawn. What is needed is a law that will explicitly a) protect cultivable and forest land from acquisition or purchase except under certain very stringent conditions; b) protect the inalienable right of people over land and everything attached to land – i.e minerals, water, forests c) protect all people from forced acquisition without informed consent of the gram sabha (or comparable body in the case of urban settlements) under any pretext and d) rule out any acquisition for private parties, and make all the rules for land acquisition, compensation as well as R&R applicable not only on acquisition but also on purchase by private parties.