Today, people are protesting against illegal and unjust land grabbing across the country, and it is clear for all to see that the process of land acquisition is unjust and driven by private interests. At this time, the UPA government is introducing a Bill that will supposedly address these issues. The government claims that the main problem is ensuring “fair” compensation for land losers, though, ironically, its Bill will not even achieve this. However, the problem is far deeper, and affects far more people than land owners alone.
Every time the petition is signed, an e-mail with the petition letter goes out to several officials, who need to hear your voice loud and clear. So, please express your solidarity with the displaced by signing the petition.
Reject Land Acquisition and Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill 2011
The Land Acquisition and Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill 2011 treats land acquisition as a rule, and doesn’t recognise coercive acquisition as an exception. It completely misses the point that conflicts all over the country have erupted because the government has been treating this as a means of taking over land and handing it over as it pleases it to do. Continuing to treat land as a commodity which this helps transact will be missing the point about why conflicts abound, which conflicts the draft Bill is expected to abate. The 2011 Bill indulges in doublespeak. It acknowledges the key demands and then proceeds to negate every single one. Contrary to government claims, this Bill in fact promotes further unregulated land takeover by corporates, while assuring them government assistance in dealing with recalcitrant landowners. The bill essentially exempts all private activity in urban areas from R&R by setting an absurd minimum limit of 50 acres (which would exclude practically every urban project in the country). Insofar as public acquisition is concerned, the Bill makes no reference to slums or urban dwellers and their rights. Those affected cannot approach local courts - they have to go only to a government appointed State or Central authority, thus undermining the separation of executive and judicial functions. After grandly stating that this law will create a new, just process of acquisition , these clauses exempt a whole range of activities - SEZs, coal mines, highways, uranium mines, railways etc. - from this law entirely. This is at a time when SEZs and mines have been sites of bloody, violent conflict across the country.
The minimum requirements of the process for deciding on land use changes should then be:
* In cases of land use change for private companies, the onus for establishing public purpose should be on them.
* Public purpose should be defined in terms of the goals set for the land use plan and those in Part IV of the Constitution (in particular, Article 39). Change of land use should either not result in displacement or in minimal displacement. Government ownership and full public funding should be the preferred institutional and financial norms.
* Public purpose and the R&R package have to be fully elucidated to the project affected people through written materials and a series of public consultations, in clearly prescribed formats. The R&R package should be decided througha process of negotiation, subject to minimum entitlements as discussed below. No land use change or acquisition should be permitted without prior informed consent of the affected gram sabhas (or ward/basti sabhas) and a separate, explicit consent to the R&R package. The final decision should be open to public scrutiny and to challenge in all courts. A decision by the executive or the bureaucracy alone should never be sufficient for a project to be deemed a public purpose.
* All people who suffer any loss of livelihood, irrespective of their legal status, due to loss of access to private, common or forest resources should be treated as persons interested and affected, without any cutoff date, requirement of residential status or for establishing loss of primary livelihood. The loss of common property resources should also be compensated. In urban areas, there should be explicit provisions barring any insistence on cutoff dates and legality of residence and use of land.
* Effective, accessible and democratic institutions should be provided from the project level upwards for enforcement of people’s rights during the process of takeover of private land / transfer of government land and rehabilitation and resettlement. Violation of any right should mandatorily render the entire process null and void. The state should be responsible for timely provision of information. People’s rights should not be deemed to have been waived under any circumstances.
* Complete resettlement and rehabilitation should precede change of land use or dispossession by at least six months.
* Compensation and price for take over of individual lands should be based on the future and not on present land use. It should be calculated based on the highest sale for similar lands in adjacent areas, multiplied by a factor of ten in rural areas and six in urban areas. This should be fixed as the floor price for private purchase of any area larger than the land ceiling.
* Temporary takeover of land should not be done without fully meeting all R&R requirements and subject to the same process of decision making as full change of land use “Urgency” clauses should be considered a form of temporary takeover – there is no need for the government to acquire ownership to land that is needed in an emergency. Such clauses should be restricted to imminent danger to life or limb and compensation should be negotiated in the form of a lease, with a floor level of land values that are four times more than those decided for non-urgent cases.
* All land not utilised within 5 years should revert to original occupiers, without requiring return of compensation.
* Common property in both rural and urban areas (including slums and common areas used by them) should be under local and democratic management systems.
* Resettlement and rehabilitation should ensure a higher standard of living after resettlement. This should include a minimum of five acres in rural areas for land-dependent people, irrespective of their status as landholders or landless (with full land for land for STs and forest dwellers if they have larger holdings), and improved housing in urban areas. Mandatory employment and shares in the project, in the case of revenue earning projects, should be provided over and above this. Infrastructure and basic public services must always be provided.