Acquiring land for special economic zones may become tougher.
The rural development ministry has redrafted the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Bill with a provision that says the proposed law would apply to land acquisition under the Special Economic Zone Act, 2005.
This means if the redrafted bill is passed, landlosers will have to be consulted and their consent taken before their land can be acquired under the SEZ Act, apart from being compensated and rehabilitated.
As of now, people’s consent is not needed for land acquired under the SEZ Act. The government can just take over the land after compensating the affected people.
Under the original bill, tabled in Parliament last year, land acquired under the SEZ Act was exempt from the proposed LARR law along with 15 other central acts under which land can be taken over.
The LARR bill was later sent to a House standing committee, which said there was no need to exempt the 16 central acts since 95 per cent of land acquisition by the central government would then be outside the scope of the proposed law.
The committee said these 16 laws should be amended to ensure that affected people got proper compensation.
Rural development minister Jairam Ramesh had said he was in “substantial agreement” with the committee’s recommendations.
But the fresh draft has exempted 13 of these central laws. It has, however, said the proposed acquisition law would apply to the remaining three — the SEZ Act, the Works of Defence Act, 1903, and the Cantonments Act, 2006.
The rural development ministry has asked other ministries to send their feedback by July 21, after which the new draft — which seeks to replace the existing Land Acquisition Act of 1894 — will be placed before the cabinet. The ministry is likely to table the redrafted bill in the coming monsoon session.
Sources said the ministry had kept the 13 central laws outside the purview of the LARR bill because acquisition under these laws involved less land and linear projects such as highways, railway lines and power transmission lines that are essential for development.
But for SEZs, large tracts of land are required. Under the SEZ Act, 2005, multi-product special economic zones need around 1,000 hectares while service-sector SEZs require around 100 hectares in plain areas.
If the redrafted LARR bill is passed, the consent of 80 per cent of landlosers will be required before acquiring the land and even those dependent on the land for their livelihood, like farm labourers, would have to be compensated and rehabilitated.
“This is a good move by the rural development ministry to bring the SEZ Act under the ambit of the LARR bill. This means people stand to get good benefits like good compensation and rehabilitation package if they wish to give land for SEZs. Also, they can deny land if they think they would not benefit much from such projects,” National Advisory Council member N.C. Saxena said.
According to a report of the committee on state agrarian relations, SEZs have mostly focused on prime agricultural land, which has left large chunks of land degraded because of industrial waste and effluents. The industrial units have also affected the quality of river waters, the traditional lifeline for rural masses.
Sources said the defence ministry was comfortable with the redrafted bill as it had agreed to follow the compensation and other provisions of the proposed acquisition law.
The rural development ministry has rejected the House panel’s recommendation that the government keep away from acquiring land for private industry.
The redrafted bill reiterates that governments will have the freedom to acquire the whole or part of the land required for an industry.