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Land Acquisition - Issues and possible solutions
The Land Acquisition ordinance is back in focus and for good reasons too. Major issues of concern may be summarized as follows:

1. The fact that not so subtle elements of coercion find mention in the proposed bill violates the basic democratic right of individuals to own property. The provision is a throw-back to a feudal tradition; rulers have always been landlords. Justification for coercive actions as subserving a larger public interest was also invoked when emergency was introduced. Subsequent events were proof enough of the misguided presumption. It is the responsibility of the state to protect the democratic rights of all people; not to put them at risk as the ordinance does.

2. For land owners their lands are very often their only valuable asset that yields income in perpetuity. One time compensation even at market rates or better is not adequate compensation for such a productive asset. True value of the asset would have to take into account income over a lifetime or more.

3. Any legislation that does not provide for the many landless families who are entirely dependent on the lands they till, even though they may not own it, puts at unacceptable risk the most vulnerable section of our society.

4. The promise of collateral benefit consequent upon job creation as suggested by the government needs to be substantiated with data from previous land acquisitions by various governments. An impartial audit of land acquisitions that have taken place in the past would greatly help to provide clarity to the arguments.

If such data do indeed indicate that the promises were actually delivered, the argument in support of the policy proposed in the ordinance could receive a boost. In the absence of such data, skeptics would continue to have the upper hand.

5. There remains a nagging thought as to why industry and businesses shy away from competing in the open market for land which process they otherwise vehemently support for all other business activities? Arguments advanced in support of this aberration are unconvincing. The suggestion that the process is a subtle way of securing a "subsidy" for the business is not without substance. It is indeed a matter of some concern that businesses that are quick to decry subsidies for other segments of society, are quick to reach out for the same consideration for themselves.

However, the need for finding suitable land for various developmental activities cannot be denied. Following suggestions are, therefore, made in the hope that these may provide alternate solutions to the problem(s).

1. The land to be acquired from the land owners should be acquired either on a long lease or in the form of equity for the proposed business. In either event ownership of the land would not be alienated. The same format should apply even for public funded schemes. This option will ensure a steady income for the affected families. Of course, a general format for the procedure would need to be worked out.

In order to help the land owners to make an informed choice it should be mandatory to educate the concerned individuals about the details of the proposed project(s). Such education should be conducted by a group of suitable but independent experts. Further, the process should remain under judicial scrutiny. The need to empower landowners to make an informed decision would seem unexceptionable.

2. In the event that, after examining all alternatives, an outright sale is acceptable to the landowners it should be ensured that the price is set by open bidding with a base price that would be the minimum price acceptable to the landowners. Governments should not engage in the process except perhaps as facilitators.

3. Whatever be the modality of acquisition (lease, equity or outright sale) the act should put in place a mechanism that helps to educate landowners regarding possible options for putting to productive use the windfall gains that they are likely to come by. Experience shows that very often such gains are frittered away in "mauj-masti" (for fun) which often leads to bankruptcy sooner or later.

Perhaps the RBI or SEBI could develop a suitable educational module of wealth management for such persons and also ensure that appropriate investment decisions are made to protect the interests of such families. A gentle "hand holding" exercise with advice for course correction, should that be needed, could provide added positive support.

3. The role of governments should be restricted to ensuring that adequate provisions are made for the protection of interests of the landless tillers of the land to be acquired. 

4. It would help to enact a law that would deny to governments the power to acquire any privately owned land.

A public debate on the suggestions made should be welcome.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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