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4-min read

Congress prepares to hard sell the land law and along with it, Rahul

We will go to the people with the Land Acquisition law, the Food Security law, and they will be election issues, said Jairam Ramesh.

Rupashree Nanda | CNN-IBN

Updated:September 8, 2013, 5:45 PM IST
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Congress prepares to hard sell the land law and along with it, Rahul
We will go to the people with the Land Acquisition law, the Food Security law, and they will be election issues, said Jairam Ramesh.

The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Re-settlement is UPA's 6th milestone in a series of laws that follow a rights based approach towards governance after the Right to Information (2005), the MNREGA (2005), the Forests Rights Act (2006), the Right to Education (2009), the Right to Food (2013) and will be part of the election campaign said Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, "We will go to the people with the Land Acquisition law, the Food Security law, they will be election issues."

Jairam Ramesh credited Rahul Gandhi for the change in the title of the law. Ramesh said that during the making of the law when it attracted a lot of criticism, it was Rahul Gandhi who gave him the example of George Bush's Patriot Act post 9/11 attacks in New York. The title of Bush's controversial law, "Patriot Act", it was argued, made it difficult for people to oppose it. According to Ramesh, Rahul Gandhi told him to look for such a name that would capture the essential philosophy of the new (land) Act. So while in 1894, the philosophy was land acquisition, in 2013, the philosophy was fair compensation, fair resettlement and rehabilitation and land acquisition.

A separate note circulated among party spokespersons also credits Rahul Gandhi; "a series of systemic atrocities committed in the name of land acquisition two years ago in villages of Bhatta, Parasaul and Achcheypur acted as the catalyst for this law.... Rahul Gandhi visited the area and sought to assist farmers in their fight against the 'oppressive state machinery' ... weeks after that processes were set in motion which has resulted in the new law."

In the press conference on Sunday, Ramesh also credited Sonia Gandhi led National Advisory Council, saying it was the NAC that had recommended that land acquisition, rehabilitation and re-settlement should be both part of the one law. The new law, the minister re-iterated, would benefit farmers, the landless, dalits and adivasis and therefore will benefit the country.

Ramesh's press conference was directed primarily towards answering the criticism that the new law has attracted and, in many ways was a re-iteration of what the minister has already stated in Parliament. One of the criticism is that the new law will have a negative impact on industrialization and urbanization. However, Ramesh clarified that the law does not impose any bar on the purchase of land and there is a provision for leasing of land where the laws of acquisition will not apply. It has been left to the discretion of the states to decide the terms on which the land is leased. On whether the cost of acquiring land would go up, Ramesh replied in the affirmative and added, "Companies must learn to be sensitive to the changing aspirations of people. Indian companies still believe that they can use the government to acquire land... that era has gone...you have to respect people's rights". While he could not guarantee that incidents like Bhatta, Parasaul will not happen again, the minister did say that there is less scope for the misuse of the law and therefore there will be less reason to agitate. Taking a dig at Narendra Modi, Ramesh said that no matter what he said, even Gujarat was not immune to conflicts over land.

Another concern has been the application of the "Retrospective Clause" - the provisions of the new law will apply under three scenarios - in cases where no compensation has been made under section 11 of 1894 Act, where an award has been made but people have not accepted the compensation or given up possession and also where a majority have not received compensation. In Tappal, Bhatta and Parasaul, farmers who have obtained a stay order from the courts will benefit from the new law.

The new law has also been criticised for bestowing a lot of power on the district collector. Ramesh clarified that while earlier it was left to the discretion of the collector to decide what "public purpose" is, now the law has clearly defined it. The new law also states that the urgency clause can be invoked only under two circumstances - national security and natural calamities and, therefore there is little latitude for collectors to misuse this provision.

Currently, there are 13 laws which are outside the purview of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Re-settlement Act-2013. The CPI(M) argued in Parliament that the provisions of the new law should also apply to the thirteen existing laws. Ramesh said, "Within one year the Central government has to amend these thirteen laws". The new land law also empowers gram sabhas by making their consent mandatory, a provision that is especially significant in states like Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh. Ramesh also said, "The Land Acquisition law, if properly implemented, would defeat Naxalism".

The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Re-settlement will be notified within the next three months.

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