“Our land is more valuable than your money. It will last forever. It will not even perish by the flames of fire. As long as the sun shines and the waters flow, this land will be here to give life to men and animals. Compulsory acquisition of land not only leads to loss of economic assets and livelihood but also disrupts communities, cultural identities, local markets for goods and labour, consequently placing the out sees in a “spiral of impoverishment.”
Our world has around 195 countries, 7 continents, 100’s of different regions with various kinds of governments or kingdoms. But everywhere one thing remains the same – the duty of government towards its people. Yes! The most important job of the executive is to make sure people are comfortable and to provide service to the public. Government has a duty to construct roads, build rest houses, initialize industries etc. What is the most important requirement to successfully complete a public sector undertaking? Is it trusted contractors? Considerable budget? Dedicated workers? All these are important, but the quintessential requirement is proper Land. Yes, a suitable land is the very basic necessity for every undertaking. A land with great neighbourhood, with availability of water and other resources, with essential background etc. But the problem is government do not own every required land. What would be the solution? Here I introduce you to the idea of land acquisition. In layman’s language land acquisition can be defined as the process of government acquiring private property for general public purposes. According to U.N Food and agricultural organisation land acquisition means the process whereby a person is compelled by a public agency to alienate all or part of the land a person owns or possesses, to the ownership and possession of that agency, for public purpose in return for a compensation. Land acquisition rules are governed by individual laws of the particular country. In U.S.A the term ‘eminent domain’ is used for land acquisition with rules of proper compensation in 5th amendment. In U.K ‘Land Compensation Act of 1961’ governs the compulsory purchase of land by the executive. But in this essay I will be trying to analyse the history and evolution of land acquisition laws in India, the recent amendments, It’s pros and cons etc.
Evolution of the Land Acquisition Laws in India-
The first land acquisition legislation in India dates back to as early as 1824 – the era of British government. It was called as Bengal resolution which applied to whole of Bengal province which was under Fort William. Slowly the law is applied in Madras and Mumbai presidency. In 1857 a legislation was introduced which brought whole of British India together with uniform land acquisition law. Again in 1870 new Act was passed. This Act was found ineffective through case of Radhey Shyam(D) Through LRs and others v. State of U.P. and others. Finally after decades of ambiguity and restlessness the land acquisition act of 1894 was passed with the definite objective of building infrastructure like railways, post, telegraph lines, roads, bridges, canals, communication network and means to transfer the army and weaponry to different parts of the country.
The Land Acquisition Act 1894 and Evolution of the Bill-
The Land Acquisition Act of 1894 was introduced with the sole purpose of taking over the land for colonial purposes. The Act lacks humanitarian values and social justice which are very essential. There were some major problems in this Act which were found to be overtly causing injustice. ‘Urgency clause’ is the most criticised part of this Act. This means land could be acquired overnight without any valid reason. Valid reason was a distant dream in this Act with the ambiguity of the definition ‘public purposes’. The landowner whose land is proposed to be acquired cannot seek injunction against it. Method of compensation was unfair as compensation was determined on the basis of market value on the day of preliminary notification. There was no provision of rehabilitation and resettlement under this Act. There was also no provision for dialogue with the affected people. This is just a brief overview of the problems and lack of clarity of this bill. After India attained freedom, in 1948 the same bill of 1894 was adopted with negligible amendments. For decades India had British era laws governing the land acquisition. It was only in 1998 the rural development ministry initiated the process of amending the Act. As India entered the 21st century, the blatant errors and inability of the 1894 Act were visible and certain. With value of land skyrocketing and increase of real estate corruption the government had no other way than bringing a new Act.
21st Century Bills And Controversies-
The congress led United Progressive Alliance came to power in 2004. The first attempt to bring in the amendment came in 2007. It was passed in Lok Sabha as Land Amendment Bill 2009. But with the dissolution of 14 Lok Sabha in 2009 the bill lapsed. When UPA came back to power, the bill reintroduced as “Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011″ Finally after much deliberations the bill was passed as “The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013″. It came into effect on 1st January 2014. But immediately after this UPA lost its power and National Democratic Alliance led by BJP came into power. With change in governments the change in ideology was expected and immediate action came in 2015 with the introduction of Land Bill 2015. This period of introduction of various land bills was hugely controversial with change in political parties at the helm, corruption, money laundering etc. 2013 land acquisition act has lot of positive changes. Compensations are drastically increased to four times in rural areas and twice in urban areas. For the first-time legal validity was given to rehabilitation and resettlement. Along with this many other positive changes were bought by this Act. It received fair amount of criticism with industrialists believing it has made buying large scale land a more arduous process. When NDA came to power in 2014 The land acquisition ordinance 2014 was introduced. It emphasized on bringing some major changes to the previous act. The 2013 gave exemption to 13 laws (including mines act, metro railways act etc). This was changed with introduction of 5 special categories. These special categories were excluded from 80-70 consent system, social impact assessment, return of unutilised land, social impact assessment etc. This garnered a huge criticism with government being accused as anti- farmer. Opposition walked out when the ordinance was introduced in the budget session of Lok Sabha. Social activists such as Anna Hazare led strikes against the bill. Over the next few months the bill was referred to a joint committee. A case was filed in the supreme court. Even after introducing 3 times the bill was not passed in Rajya Sabha and it lapsed on 31st August 2015.
For more than a century the entire country grimly followed the archaic English laws. When finally government decided to bring a change Politicians, Bureaucrats, farmers, Land dealers everyone jumped into action. It is almost impossible to bring out a law that caters to each and every section of the society. While the land acquisition act of 2013 was considered anti-development by the builders and real estate developers. Frankly it had to be accepted as a but one-sided move with extreme sympathy towards land owners. The 2015 ordinance was pictured as the idea to fill the pockets of corporate giants and to destroy the livelihood of farmers. The most important thing to understand is when it comes to acquisition process of a land it can uproot the entire lifestyle of an individual. But one cannot consider stopping land acquisition as it is vital for various factors. Future might be different. A world bank study has come to a conclusion that cities are rapidly spreading across south Asia. In the period of 1999-2010 the urban land area in the region grew around 5% a year which is twice the rate of growth of urban population. This shows us how rapidly the urbanisation is taking place. This urbanisation would invariably lead to increased land acquisition. This means chances of more dispute and problems. With the current situation of covid19 across the global the economy is straining day by day. It is hard to picture how it turns out in the coming years. With these difficult conditions proper compensation and rehabilitation becomes extremely important. Government can bring certain better provisions around land acquisition that would help both the land owners and the acquirers in the coming years. Only time will tell the answer.
This article is written by Nilesh Beliraya K, 1st year BBA LLB (HONS) at Chankaya National Law University.
Also Read – Eminent Domain in India