Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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Land Acquisition Bill (LARR) 2011 –II

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By Phrangsngi Pyrtuh

The other way to look at this debate is the obsession of the present government with the neo-liberal agenda of allowing the market and the private sectors to ensure that growth targets are achieved. Despite the corporate sector already being given enough room to maneuver vis-à-vis land acquisition (resettlement and rehabilitation is their least concern and remains a state problem) they still seek to nullify some of the recommendations of the proposed bill. Prior to 1984 amendment, changes to the 1894 act was brought about because of genuine concern on rehabilitation and lack of compensation packages but post 1991- driven by neo-liberal agenda and corporate backed politics, the 1894 act is now in fact seen as a hindrance to realization of huge private investments in land and other resources. The proposed act is meant simply to further yield to the demands of the corporates. The state acting as an agent will go to great lengths to secure their interests and this is reflected in the draft proposal where the state acquires land with the purpose of facilitating the transfer to private companies. The Rural Ministry has in fact released a draft bill called Land Tilting Bill 2011 (again currently open to the public)- aimed at commodification of land.

While the proposed draft warrants consent of 80% of land owners if the land is acquired for transfer to either public or private companies the same consent rule does not apply when the government declares a place for public purpose and acquires the land directly. Moreover the consent rule is thorny since as is evident from Nandigram or Singur consent is usually purchased by money (or by muscle force) indicating mis-utilisation of power. Corporates are up in arms against this provision. Recently FICCI urged the government to reduce the consent rule to 50%. Activists in fact wants a 100% consent rule- it is inhuman to acquire land if say 90% consent and 10% do not. Should not the rights of the 10% be respected? These are technical questions that the law does not want to get into. The consent of the majority shall overcome the rights of the few seems to be the working logic.

We have seen similar attempts by the UPA government to play dangerously with words in securing the interests of the Corporates (and in the process compromising the interests of the country) for instance the Nuclear liability bill while it was first placed in the Parliament initially spelt that in the event of any mishap (arising due to corporate negligence such as improper safety measures or leakage or radiation effect) the private nuclear suppliers are exempted from liability (entailing monetary compensation and such). Thus what we see is not just the “withdrawal of the state’’ but more dangerously the reluctance of the private sector to shoulder responsibility if crises should occur affecting the society at large and if it does so it becomes simply a perfunctory requirement such as corporate social responsibility (CSR) which is really a pick and choose project which suits its requirement.

The neo-liberal agenda forged a partnership between the state and companies. The state in neo-liberal times according to Prabhat Patnaik has become a contracting party between the Corporates and their greed for more land resources and the people which the state is purportedly supposed to protect. One of the means by which such a contracting state is subverted to the interest of its Corporate patrons is the subversion of the principle of eminent domain. First seen during the 17th century, the eminent domain empowers the state to take only private property to be used for public purposes on appropriate compensation ( thus land that is not private such as forest land, community held lands etc strictly do not fall within the purview of this principle). Contrary to convention, the state has chosen to circumvent its utility by compulsorily acquiring all kinds of land whether private or otherwise by cleverly employing the language of “public purpose” which legitimizes land acquisition and mass displacement. With such an emerging phenomenon the logic of eminent domain is defied as far as it is incapable of acknowledging the hundreds of thousands who stand to lose their livelihood, security and support structure.

Reading through the draft, the law looks inviting and as some economist defined ‘well intentioned but flawed’. However one should in fact be concerned with the invisible text that the draft does not spell out which is to de-link land from the people to further the cause of development. How much of public opposition against the bill is incorporated to the new law is a question we have to wait till the winter session.

After much public outcry the Meghalaya government decided to seek exemption from the proposed law. Quite belated, the response manifests the insensitivity of the government towards the interest of the people. The bill was open for public debate months back but an insolent administration such as ours could only be forgiven for this delayed response. This silence was because the government was drowned in its illusion that the state law is strong enough to nullify a law passed by the Parliament ( which it realized is not the case and hence the announcement by Minister R.C Laloo). Given the increasing interest of the centre on uranium mining (and the given opposition to it by the people) it remains to be seen how far such a petition is considered before the final law takes shape. (The author is a research scholar, Jawaharlal Nehru University)

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