-The Times of India
If the Cabinet approves the Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2012, then squatters too will have to be given rehabilitation and resettlement packages if the land they occupy is acquired. Squatters will need to show that they have been working/living in the affected area for three years to be eligible for compensation.
Infrastructure ministries are irked at this inclusion, especially the short eligibility period of three years. They claim that such a move would encourage encroachers and drive up project costs. The draft bill is currently being circulated for inter-ministerial consultation,
'Affected persons' include families that do not own land but may be working in the affected area for three years prior to the acquisition, which would affect their primary source of livelihood. This sub-clause would extend the benefit of compensation to squatters or people who have been living on the land, which is to be acquired, and that removal from that area would affect their livelihood. With this the proposed legislation seeks to treat squatters on par with agricultural labourers, tenants, sharecroppers or artisans.
The definition of the 'affected persons' has been kept broad-based to be able to ensure compensation to marginal sections, especially in urban and semi-urban areas. "Land is acquired and people who have been living there and working as rickshaw pullers or domestic help in the nearby areas find themselves doubly dispossessed - of their homes and their incomes," said a source.
Infrastructure ministries are not too happy with this. These ministries are already dealing with requests from state governments for a resettlement and rehabilitation component in compensation package. While the idea is to compensate for loss of livelihood, those dealing with infrastructure projects argue that a mere three-year requirement will only serve to drive up costs.
Explaining the rationale behind the objection, a senior minister said, "this could hit our infrastructure projects adversely. The cut-off date is too low. The logic of loss of livelihood comes in if the person has been on that land for decades. Three years does not seem very plausible. This way we are almost giving the people an incentive to encroach."
Those favouring the idea argue that increasing the eligibility period will undermine aim of bringing squatters within the compensation umbrella. They argue in urban areas it is migrant labour that would be found living in these squatter tenements, and increasing the eligibility beyond three years would keep a majority of them outside the pale of any compensation, while the loss of home and income would hit them hardest. But the irony of 'migrant settlers' earning compensation seems to be lost on them.
National Advisory Council member NC Saxena, who had been involved with the consultation and drafting of the legislation, says: "There is a need to understand the human angle. There is deep inequality and inequity in our system. In our urban centres, it is the rich that own most of the land, driving up prices of land. So where is a rickshaw puller or domestic help supposed to live till they have enough for proper living arrangements? Once the land is acquired, they will lose their homes and their livelihood and that needs to be addressed."
The move to include squatters comes as an additional problem for infrastructure ministries, even for those projects that would come under the land bill's exemption list. States are already demanding a resettlement and rehabilitation component in compensation package, as they expect that those affected would demand the benefits promised in the proposed LARR legislation.
Kerala government likely to fund squatters
As per an official, the road transport and highways ministry had received such a rehabilitation request from the Kerala government. The previous LDF government, which had first put curbs on public-private-partnership projects in the road sector and then forced NHAI to reduce the standard highway width for four-lane roads in the state, had barred land acquisition a year before the state went for polls. The ministry had expected things to move after the Congress-led UDF government took over the reins of power. Though land acquisition is looking slightly better, the state government wants the Centre to compensate even those squatting. The official said the ministry has refused to comply with the suggestion, saying land for highways is acquired under the National Highways Act, which does not allow any rehabilitation measures. NHAI goes by the award decision taken by the state government's land revenue officers. This would mean the Kerala government may fund the resettlement of squatters.