FINAL CHECKS, MR RAMESH
The much debated Land Acquisition Bill is likely to be placed before Parliament this session. A few worries
HE RIGHT to Fair Compensation, Resettlement, Rehabilitation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Bill will reach the Union Cabinet next week. It has passed the scrutiny of a House panel and a Group of Ministers ( GOM). Neither Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, who shaped it, nor GoM head Sharad Pawar, who cleared it, revealed the contours of the final consensus, but it is learnt that the contentious consent clause is back to 80 percent.
While the industry is upset over what it calls unrealistic terms for consent and land cost, the weaknesses of this wellmeaning Bill may lie elsewhere. In fact, the apparently inflated land value — two to four times the market price depending on the plot’s proximity to urban areas — may still be below the actual market price, which is far above the government circle
Trates or registration values of similar plots in the recent past.
It is no secret that registrations are usually done at absurdly low prices to save on stamp duty and to keep the black money in circulation. So in cities, even after a 100 percent solatium, the land value for acquisition is likely to remain lower than the actual market price. If anything, the buyer can only crib about having to pay a nearmarket price entirely in white money.
Then again, the debate over consent — whether two-thirds or 80 percent of landowners should agree to allow acquisition — misses a crucial point. As projects keep getting bigger, the number of affected often runs into thousands and across many villages. Unless the proposed 80 (or 67) percent consent is sought separately from every affected gram sabha or the smallest local democratic body, the very purpose of seeking consent may be defeated.
Consider the POSCO project in Odisha. The proposed plant affects some 22,000 landowners in seven villages. Dhinkia, the centre of resistance where not even 10 percent agree to acquisition, has a population of around 4,000. Now, hypothetically, if the other six villages agree to trade their land, should villagers in Dhinkia be forced to give up theirs?
The compensation prescribed in the Bill is generous. But there is the danger of