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Land Bill will not end British legacy of land acquisition: Medha Patkar
The Resettlement and Rehabilitation (R&R) is linked with land acquisition and for the first time been, has brought into a single act. However, the R&R provisions are more cash-based and seem not to be providing for an alternative Livelihood as a mandatory measure.

RENOWNED SOCIAL activist Medha Patkar from the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), in her first reaction on the Bill amending the Land Acquisition Act’s legacy passed by the cabinet on Thursday, said that it will not end the British legacy of land acquisition.

According to her, it has left many basic issues of conflict over forcible land acquisition unresolved - ignoring and bypassing the report and recommendations by the all-party Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development, and has left the new Bill with serious flaws that would compel the farmers and others dependent on the land and affected by the projects, to continue with their on going resistance in many situations.

She said that it is also against the parliamentary democracy that a unanimous report of the Standing Committee is not given due importance before finalizing the cabinet’s draft.

However, she felt that there is no doubt that the union government was compelled to bring in certain provisions to control the unjustifiable forcible acquisition of land and associated Natural Resources, such as minerals, for the private companies and their projects. The consent of 80% of affected land losers in the case of private projects and of 70% of PPP projects has now become a precondition, which no doubt is a major change. However, she asked that why not similar provisions applies for the Government projects?

In fact, she lamented that excluding the Government projects and all Infrastructure projects, has left the Bill as a lame one, and not applicable to land acquisition in many conflict ridden projects. It is also unacceptable that out of 16 different acts in India under which there are provisions for forcible land acquisition, only 3 acts are brought under the purview of the new Bill against the standing committees recommendations.

Ms Medha Patkar deplored that the UPA has lost the opportunity to make the development planning democratic and bring in the role Gram Sabhas and the Urban Basti Sabhas in the same.

She reminded that the Bill also rejects the Standing Committee's recommendation to leave out any and every agricultural land under cultivation out of the purview of land acquisition. Instead, it puts certain pre-conditions such as bringing in alternative land under cultivation for acquiring multi crop land as the last resort but that does not prevent acquisition of single crop land.

Thus 75% of India’s farmers engaged in rain fed agriculture will continue to have sword of forcible acquisition hanging on their heads. The Bill also gives State Governments undue freedom to decide what percentage of irrigated land in a district can be acquired, she added.

However, Medha Patkar appreciated that Resettlement and Rehabilitation is linked with Land acquisition and for the first time been brought into a single act. However,  she pointed out that the R & R provisions are more cash based and seem not to be providing for an alternative Livelihood as a mandatory measure.

According to her, there is a strong doubt therefore that the increased offer of cash compensation including 100% solatium, will act as a luring force to make the farmers loose land. In the present situation of inequity between the prices for the agricultural produce vis-à-vis industrial products and services this is surely to happen.

Medha Patkar felt that provision of one hectare of land for SC/ST or 1 acre of land in the command area for irrigation project affected SC/ST Families is highly inadequate and will neither ensure alternative livelihood nor better standard of living after rehabilitation. It is also unnecessary that the Bill leaves Resettlement and Rehabilitation responsibility for the Private project proponents, to be decided by the State Government.

Medha Patkar also expressed her disappointment as the monitoring is certainly bureaucratically loaded. The role of Gram Sabhas necessary for democratizing the planning to monitoring process is certainly lacking.

She lamented that the much awaited Bill that was pooh poohed by the UPA as a solution to the enormous injustice and related resistance to land acquisition, is therefore to disappoint many.

However, Patkar said that there is some change that has come as a result of strong peoples’ movements across the country, inspite of unprecedented pressure tactics from the Corporates. However, she felt, it is unlikely that the new Act will resolve the serious conflicts between the State and Farmers to Fish workers, as also Labourers, unless the above flaws are removed and many basic amendments are made.  She expressed hope that the Country would witness not the unethical alliance politics of the kind seen during the FDI debate, but a serious discussion that would pave a way for resolution of conflict over land and all natural resources.

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