Business

Acquiring irrigated multi-crop land may become more difficult

The government is considering various options to ensure the smooth passage of the controversial land acquisition amendment Bill, listed for tabling in the Lok Sabha on Monday, in both Houses of Parliament. According to officials in the know, some of the alterations to the proposed amendment Bill might make it very difficult to acquire irrigated multi-crop land for sectors outside the ambit of social-impact assessment (SIA) and consent clause.

The ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is in a minority in the Rajya Sabha.

The sectors that are exempt from SIA and consent clause are defence, rural infrastructure (including rural electrification), affordable housing & housing for the poor, industrial corridors & infrastructure, and social infrastructure projects under public-private partnership (PPP) where ownership of land rests with the government.

“This will ensure government land and wasteland are acquired on priority in all projects, and irrigated multi-crop farmland is touched only as the last resort,” said a senior official.

The Bill, listed for tabling in the Lok Sabha on Monday, will replace an ordinance approved by President Pranab Mukherjee in December last year. The alterations to the Bill, though, might not be incorporated at the stage of tabling; these, according to the official, could come in reply to a debate on the Bill.

These likely moves were seen as measures to also dispel the impression that the new Bill was ‘anti-farmer’, added the official, who did not wish to be named. But even these changes are to be incorporated only after all of the Centre’s efforts to reach a consensus on the amendments fail.

So far as acquisition of irrigated multi-crop land is concerned, the government might move closer to the position of the previous Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, passed by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government of the time.

The Act of 2013 had in its Chapter 3 (titled ‘Special Provision to Safeguard Food Security’) said that irrigated multi-crop land should not be acquired; any such acquisition, if at all, should only be in exceptional cases.

The Act also said, whenever such an irrigated multi-crop land was acquired, an equivalent area of culturable wasteland should be developed, or an equivalent value be deposited with the appropriate government for investment in agriculture. Culturable land is that which can potentially be developed as vegetative cover but is not being used due to constraints like erosion, water logging, salinity, etc.

The Act of 2013 had exempted linear projects, such as railway lines, from this provision. “Linear projects like railway lines, highways, major district roads, irrigation canals, power lines, etc, are kept out of the purview of this provision,” the Act had said.

However, in amendments to the original Land Bill, the current government also exempted defence, rural infrastructure, industrial corridors, etc, from the provisions of Chapter 3 that deal with acquisition of irrigated multi-crop land.

“Now that there has been some opposition to the ordinance in its current form, we are considering bringing back the provisions of Chapter 3 on the hitherto exempt sectors. That will ensure irrigated multi-crop land is not acquired for the sectors under any circumstances,” the official said.

This implies the linear projects might continue to be exempt from the provision but the five sectors added in the ordinance by the current government will also have to follow the rule.

The Akali Dal, a key NDA ally, had also demanded that the Centre ensure that irrigated multi-crop land is not acquired under any circumstances. There have also been suggestions on notifying land parcels where SIA and consent clause will not be applicable for the exempt sectors. Officials, however, said the Bill might not change the contentious issue of removing select sectors from the ambit of SIA and consent clause.

LAW OF THE LAND
  • The plan: Govt might return to UPA’s position on acquisition of multi-crop land
     
  • The effect: Acquiring pieces of such land for sectors like defence, rural infra, industrial corridor, PPP infra and affordable housing might become very difficult
     
  • The aim: Dispelling the govt’s ‘anti-farmer’ image
     
  • Other changes: No major tweaking expected in social-impact assessment and consent clause for exempt sectors