24/02/2015 10:45 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

What Exactly Is The Contention About The Land Acquisition Amendments?

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
NEW DELHI, INDIA - FEBRUARY 24: Trinamool Congress MPs staged a protest against the Land Acquisition Bill outside the Parliament during budget session on February 24, 2015 in New Delhi, India. The government introduced the land acquisition amendment bill in the Lok Sabha amid an uproar by the opposition. (Photo by Arvind Yadav/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

NEW DELHI: With the Bharatiya Janata Party coming to loggerheads with political parties in the Rajya Sabha on the amendments to the land acquisition bill, it threatens to throw the Parliament into disarray. Anna Hazare has already started a huge protest on the issue, and he is joined by several political parties including Aam Aadmi Party, Trinamool Congress, the Left, etc.

Here's a short history of the land acquisition bill and what's happening right now.

What Is The Land Acquisition Bill?

The Land Acquisition Act was passed in 1894, and allows the government to acquire private land for public purposes, which could be for large-scale development like building roads, industries, mining, public private partnership (PPP) projects, etc.

The Parliament in 2013 passed The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act to repeal the nineteenth century act. This was to ensure that land was acquired for strictly public welfare projects and land owners were adequately compensated, which would include monetary relief as well as proper rehabilitation.

At the time, the Congress-led UPA government had passed the new act after all-party consultations. The BJP had supported the Bill.

So What's New?

The BJP government has now introduced amendments to this act, which have been opposed by all political parties, including their ally Shiv Sena in the Rajya Sabha. The BJP's argument has been that the UPA's land acquisition law makes it impractical to acquire land for any public purpose and endlessly delays infrastructure projects.

While the amendments were passed in the lower house of the Parliament where BJP enjoys a vast majority, it has been unable to pass this in the Rajya Sabha. Instead, it took recourse in an ordinance to pass the amendments to the bill in December 2014.

Why Are The Political Parties So Opposed To The Amendments?

The amended act does not require consent from 80 percent of the land owners, if the purpose is for five sectors — national security, defence, rural infrastructure (including electrification), industrial corridors and housing for the poor. Social Impact Assessment (SIA) is also not required for these projects, according to these new amendments. This would mean that only the land owner would be compensated, since the SIA, used to track how many people depend on the land, is now being done away with.

According to the Campaign for Survival and Dignity, a national platform of tribal and forest dwellers' organisations in ten States, the bill has far too many loopholes to swing it in favour of industrialists and private interests.

Even though 80 percent consent from land owners is required when the project does not fall into the five categories stated earlier, the group claimed that there were two easy ways to circumvent the rule. One was in cases when a private group had acquired part of the land, then the government could acquire the rest of the land and would not require consent from land owners.

Second, government could acquire land for their own purpose, "to hold and control", and then change their mind and hand it over to a private company. According to the organisation, under section 1A(1)(a) of the amended act, what mattered was the intent of the government at the time of acquisition, which could change afterwards.

The members from Congress, Left, Trinamool Congress, SP, BSP and JD-U have all opposed the government over provisions of the land ordinance calling it "anti-farmer" and aimed at "benefitting corporates".

What Does The BJP Have To Say?

BJP has completely denied allegations that the amended act is anti-poor and anti-farmer.

"Opposition parties like Congress, Trinamool, Samajwadi Party and BSP have been carrying out a relentless campaign to create an impression that the ordinance is anti-farmer. We want to make it clear that contrary to their claims, the provisions in the ordinance will provide huge long-term benefits to the farmers of the country," BJP national secretary Siddharth Nath Singh has said.

The have also claimed that it is a "pro-farmer" bill as it has included 13 so far excluded Acts under the Land Acquisition Act, and land acquired from these existing central pieces of legislation will also require the same form of rehabilitation and compensation.

These Acts include the Coal Bearing Areas Acquisition and Development Act 1957, the National Highways Act 1956, Land Acquisition (Mines) Act 1885, Atomic Energy Act 1962, the Indian Tramways Act 1886, the Railways Act 1989, the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1958, the Petroleum and Minerals Pipelines (Acquisition of Right of User in Land) Act 1962 and the Damodar Valley Corporation Act 1948, the Electricity Act 2003, Requisitioning and Acquisition of Immovable Property Act 1952, the Resettlement of Displaced Persons (Land Acquisition) Act 1948 and the Metro Railways (Construction of Works) Act 1978.