Rajya Sabha passes land acquisition bill

New Delhi, Sep 4 (IANS) In a second major political victory for the UPA government, the Rajya Sabha Wednesday passed the seminal land bill that aims to provide fair compensation to those whose land is taken away, brings transparency to the process of acquisition of land to set up factories or buildings and assures generous compensation and rehabilitation of those affected by land takeover.

The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2012, was passed by 131 votes in favour with 10 against it after an over seven hour debate.

However, since four new government amendments were approved by the house, the bill will again go back to the lower house for its consideration. The bill was earlier passed by the Lok Sabha Aug 29.

The government's four amendments related to irrigated land on the suggestions of the BJP.

The passage of this bill comes close on the heels of the food bill that enshrines food rights and promises access to subsidised food to almost 800 millions Indians.

Both these legislations have been dubbed "populist" by economists but the Congress, especially its leader, Sonia Gandhi, have made the twin bills their showpiece instruments to improve the lives of India's poor and hope to leverage on them to return to power in the general elections slated for next year.

Industry is unhappy with the bill as it makes acquisition of land to set up industries infinitely more difficult as large tracts of land have fragmented ownership but the ruling Congress - as well as other parties - want to show that their heart is with farmers and tribals as no party want to be seen as anti-poor ahead of a general election.

"Compensation is not only for land owners and farmers but also for those whose livelihood will be affected," Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh said.

He said urgency clause will operate only in case of national calamity and security and private companies cannot invoke it.

The bill aims to replace a law enacted by the British in 1894.

The Congress termed the Rajya Sabha's approval a historic step.

"There was national consensus on it. It reflects the vision of the UPA government and the Congress," Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi said.

Most parties supported the bill but said fertile land should not be acquired for industrial development. Instead, barren land should be used for the purpose, they said.

Bharatiya Janata Party member Vinay Katiyar, who initiated the debate, said acquired land, if not used for more than five years, should go back to farmers and not to land banks and suggested fast track courts for speedy disposal of disputes related to land acquisition.

Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati and Samajwadi Party member Ram Gopal Yadav accused the UPA of rushing through the bill with an eye on upcoming elections.

The Trinamool Congress and the Communist Party of India-Marxists also opposed the bill.

"This bill is not good for farmers, not good for industry and not good for the country," Trinamool leader Derek O'Brien said.

CPI-M leader P. Rajeev called the bill a "political gimmick" and an "eyewash" ahead of the 2014 general elections.

"This is not an election bill but a necessary bill," said Ramesh.

Parties like the CPI-M, Communist Party of India, Trinamool, Janata Dal-United (JD-U), Biju Janata Dal, Rashtriya Janata Dal, SP and Bahujan Samaj Party also said that the consent of the farmer was key in any land acquisition and suggested that fair compensation should be paid to him.

A key feature of the bill is that the consent of 80 percent of land owners concerned is needed for acquiring land for private projects and of 70 percent landowners for public-private projects.

The compensation has also been significantly increased under the new law. It suggests compensation for the owners of the acquired land to be four times the market value in case of rural areas and twice in case of urban areas.

The bill also defines "public purpose" to include: mining, infrastructure, defence, manufacturing zones, roads, railways, highways, and ports built by government and public sector enterprises, land for project-affected people, planned development and improvement of village or urban sites and residential purposes for the poor and landless and government-administered schemes or institutions, among others.

Introduced in 2011, the bill was scrutinised by parliamentary panel that submitted its report in May 2012.

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