Land acquisition means the process of purchase of land belonging to the citizens by the Government, State or Central, for the purpose of various infrastructure and development projects. However, of late there have been a lot of allegations vis-a-vis land acquisition involving dubious deals and outright cheating of the land owners in the name of development activities.
Controversies over dubious deals
According to a report, during the period between 1950 and 1990, over 21.6 million people were displaced from their lands in the name of development activities like construction of thermal plants, sanctuaries, dams, canals, industrial facilities, mining, roads, rail tracks, offices, etc. When a land is acquired by the Government, it means displacing the people, if any, inhabiting the place. According to the law, it is the responsibility of the Government to provide the displaced population of that locality with another area of land to live and other benefits so that they can start their life all over again.
Unfortunately, this is not the case in India and it is the poor and the common people who suffer. According to another report, around 75% of the displaced population since 1951 are still awaiting rehabilitation by the Government. It has been observed that duplicitous acquisition of land by various industrialists, politicians, high officials have resulted into a number of protests in States like Bengal, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh in the recent past.
Scams associated with land acquisition
- Lavasa land scam: The Lavasa Corporation purchased around 600 hectares of land from the farmers of Maharashtra. As per the rule, 3/4th of purchase price should have been paid to the State but Lavasa group paid back only 2%. Where did the rest of the money go?
- Aadarsh housing scam: Another scam in Maharashtra was the Aadarsh housing scam. In 2002, a proposal was made to the then Chief Minister of Maharashtra to build a housing complex for the Kargil heroes and the martyrs’ families. But, strangely, over the years, it was the politicians and the bureaucrats who became the owners of the homes in this housing complex.
- Robert Vadra-DLF land scam: It was reported that Robert Vadra purchased at least 31 properties worth more than Rs 300 crore mostly in New Delhi, the money for which having come from “unsecured interest-free loans from DLF Ltd”. He is also alleged to be involved in illegal land dealings in Gurgaon. He has been accused of taking heavy bargains on land from DLF in exchange for political favours.
- Haryana Government’s land acquisition: The land acquired for construction of roads in the proposed sectors of 58-115 in Gurgaon’s Manesar Urban Complex by the Haryana Government was aimed at helping the private developers and the State lost around Rs 8,000 crore in the process.
- Tata Nano Singur controversy: This was another controversy that resulted due to acquisition of 997 acres of land for the proposed Nano factory of Tata Motors at Singur in West Bengal.
- Sardar Sarovar dam project: This dam project on the river Narmada was planned on acquired land, but was opposed by Medha Patkar due to its environmental impact.
- 2007-2011 land acquisitions by Uttar Pradesh Government: The land acquisitions for the Yamuna Expressway, Ganga Expressway and Upper Ganga Canal Expressway by the Government of Uttar Pradesh have also been tainted by controversies, with allegations of nexus among the police, bureaucracy, the land mafia and politicians.
Land Acquisition Act of 1894
Till 2013, land acquisitions by the States and the Central government were done in accordance with the Land Acquisition Act of 1894, which allows the Government to take over private lands for development purposes. Not only the Government, even private organisations, local authorities, cooperatives are also allowed to acquire lands for development purposes, through the Government. However, in return of the land, proper compensation was needed to be given to the owners. Yet, this Act was considered weak with a number of controversies cropping up.
Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013
Presently, land acquisition is governed by the above Act, and it was former rural development minister Jairam Ramesh who made the first draft of this Act. The Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on September 7, 2011 in the wake accusations emanating from deals under the previous Act and also the violent clashes in West Bengal and other areas where land was said to have been acquired from the farmers without adequate compensation. The Act came into force on January 1, 2014. This Act aims to provide fair compensation to those from whom land is taken away. Also, the Act brings transparency to the entire land acquisition process to set up infrastructural projects, factories or buildings, etc., and assures rehabilitation of those affected.
Compensation for land acquisition
The Government has to pay the land value plus the value of the property on the land. Also, the Government is liable to pay for the entire expenses involved in the re-settlement of the displaced people in their new location. And if the Government acquires agricultural land to be used for industrial purpose, then the Government has to pay the price of industrial land.
A new Land Acquisition Act should focus on the welfare of the poor people whose lands are taken away. It is the Government which is purchasing the land for development purpose and so the Government must be clean and efficient. Strict laws should be introduced to impose heavy penalties on those middlemen who dupe the poor land owners.