Justice for Farmers in Andhrapradesh
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Shri Pranab Mukherjee
His Excellency the President of India
The Union Government enacted with your assent the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (Act No. 30 of 2013) which came into effect from September 26, 2013. The Act was enacted after a wide public consultation and a comprehensive discussion and debate in the Parliament.
The 2013 Act has several salutary provisions that include an elaborate Social Impact Assessment (SIA) process that allowed the affected community to understand the need for the acquisition of land for a given project and its likely impact on the community, a mandatory requirement that the acquiring government should obtain prior consent of a substantive majority of the community before taking a decision to go ahead with the project, a mandatory condition that no owner of the property should be displaced unless the rehabilitation and resettlement process is undertaken pari passu with the acquisition process, liberal terms for determining the compensation payable and a salutory Section on “Food Security” that required mandatory minimum regional thresholds for agricultural land and irrigated multi-cropped land to ensure that the proposed land acquisition does not adversely affect the food security of the region.
The 2013 Act enshrines the long-term policy of the Union Government in so far as acquisition of private property is concerned.
“Right to property” was originally incorporated in the Constitution as a fundamental right till the 44th Constitutional Amendment, 1978 deleted Articles 19(1)(f) and 31 from Part III, the chapter on Fundamental Rights in the Constitution and inserted Article 300A in a new chapter IV of Part XII of the Constitution. Article 300A lays down that “no person shall be deprived of his property save by authority of law”. The 2013 Act is thus an instrument created under that Article and it represents the vision of the Union Government on how and under what conditions land can be acquired from land owners..
“Acquisition of property” has been included at Item 42 of the “Concurrent List” in the 7th Schedule to the Constitution and therefore any State law on the subject is evidently required to be in consonance with the law, if any, enacted by the Union. Since the Union has already enacted the 2013 Act, any law enacted by the State should either be consistent with the concepts central to the Union law or more favourable to the property owner whose land is sought to be acquired. In any case, the State law cannot and should not be less favourable to the property owner compared to the Union law.
I understand that the Andhra Pradesh government has formulated a Bill on the subject, proposing several far reaching amendments to the core concepts of the 2013 Act and has recently obtained the State legislature's endorsement. The Bill is not based on any public consultation. Apparently, the State wishes to enact the amending law in haste without a wider public discussion on the deviations with respect to the 2013 Act. Instead of adopting an inclusive approach, the State seems to be in a hurry to adopt an exclusive approach towards property acquisition in favour of the industry.
According to reports, the Bill will do away, in the majority of the cases, with the need to conduct an SIA and the need to obtain the prior consent of the affected community, before deciding on the location of a project and going ahead with land acquisition for the same.
It is important to note that the State government has so far failed to commission studies on the regional thresholds to be prescribed to ensure that land acquisition will not adversely affect the food security, showing its disregard for the provisions contained in the Parliament-enacted 2013 Act. In my view, it is a myopic step taken by the State.
I believe that the State government cannot erode the basic concepts of the 2013 Act while enacting its own law. At the most, the State can only improve upon the provisions of the 2013 Act from the point of view of the property owner. There are clearly legal implications of this that need to be examined carefully before your office can accord assent for the State's amending law.
More important than this is the need to promote democratic processes in decision making that the 2013 Act has so assiduously provided. The State's amending law, if the news reports are correct, runs counter to this concept and, therefore, needs to be rejected forthwith, keeping in view that the Constitution envisages democracy as its central theme.
All industrial projects adversely affect the local communities, disrupt the lives of the people, their social fabric and their cultural integrity. To locate a project without understanding such an impact would imply a decision making process that is blind to the welfare of the society. To abridge the provision for an SIA and drop the need for obtaining the “prior consent” condition, as envisaged in the 2013 Act, would therefore amount to enacting a law that is insensitive to the needs of the society and belittling the concept of participative decision making that lies at the heart of our Constitution.
The provisions on “Food Security” contained in Section 10 of the 2013 Act are equally important as our economy is predominantly based on agriculture and any tendency to erode the food security of the country should be countered.
There is widespread public discomfort at the way the State government has hastily moved ahead with the amending law and, in my view, such a law, if given assent by your office, will reduce the choices of the property owners, abridge their rights against the spirit of the Constitution and, in the long run, lead to widespread public dissatisfaction and avoidable conflict situations.
As elaborately discussed by Prof Amartya Sen in his outstanding work, “Development is Freedom”, the essence of any development activity is to widen the citizen's choices, not restrict them. The Ordinance proposed by the AP government vitiates this idea.
As a concerned citizen, I appeal to you not to give assent to the State's amending law on the subject, as proposed by the State.
E A S Sarma
Former Secretary to Government of India
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