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'Land acquisition bill will lead to corporatization'

While political consensus on the land acquisition bill, hailed as one of the most important reform measures, has been worked out, civil society activists are unhappy with its provisions and say it will lead to "corporatization" of land. They also say it lacks provisions for rehabilitating the displaced.

Activists say the new bill is a neo-colonial act and will not bring any gains for the land owners, mostly farmers.

"There is no other law which has taken so many turns, and yet the final version is worse than the earlier versions. In fact, the corporate lobby has dominated the changes through the process of finalising the bill. The bill would end up being a neo-colonial law, no better than the old one," retired IAS officer and social activist K.B. Saxena told IANS.

The Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, which was introduced in 2011, was scrutinized by parliamentary panel that submitted its report in May 2012. It hikes the compensation for land four times the market value in rural areas and twice in urban areas.

According to the bill, the consent of 80 percent land owners is needed for acquiring land for private projects and the consent of 70 percent landowners for public-private projects.

The bill seeks to replace the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 that goes back to the colonial era and was drafted by the British rulers for a different purpose. They bill is yet to be debated and passed by parliament. Since it was introduced in the Lok Sabha it will lapse if it is not passed in the monsoon (July-August) and winter (November-December) sessions of parliament. A truncated budget session will be held in February 2014 - during which no business can be conducted barring a vote-on-account - before the general elections in April-May.

Pointing out the lapses in the bill, Saxena said: "The bill leaves almost everything to the state governments. It is easier for corporate lobbies to manage state governments. The earlier bill provided compensation which was six times the market price, now even that has been reduced."

P.V. Rajagopal, president of Ekta Parishad, who had led a march demanding land rights, said there were serious concerns about the employment of those who would be displaced due to land acquisition.

"Seventy percent of our people are still in rural India, and their main occupation is agriculture. So converting agricultural land for any other purpose will lead to serious unemployment problems as well as undermine the nation's food security," Rajagopal told IANS.

He maintained that the notion that industries would creating more jobs is not true.

"The industries that take over land destroy a sizeable chunk of the self-employed and are able to create only a limited amount of jobs. I think this propaganda that industries are going to be the future of India is based on an incorrect notion that they will generate net employment," he said.

Veteran activist Medha Patkar expressed similar views.

"This bill is not at all people-oriented. Development can also take place without displacement. Though the bill has some good provisions, much of it has been diluted," Patkar told IANS.

"The problem with this bill is that it is encourages further corporatisation of land. There is no concrete provision for rehabilitation or alternate livelihood," she said.

According to Saxena, the definition of "public purpose" in the bill is "worse than the 1894 act".

The Bill defines public purpose to include: mining, infrastructure, defence, manufacturing zones, roads, railways, highways, and ports built by government and public sector enterprises, land for project affected people, planned development and improvement of village or urban sites and residential purposes for the poor and landless and government administered schemes or institutions, among others.

"The definition of public purpose is so broad it will cover everything," he said.

Usha Ramanathan, an expert on law and poverty, pointed out that another problem was "over-acquisition of land which the bill does not address".

"Among suggestions for reducing the fiscal deficit is talk of selling the extra land with the railways and port authorities. The point is that extra land shows there has been over-acquisition," Ramanathan told IANS.

"There should be a provision in the bill that land acquired should not be sold off," she added.

Patkar has called on members of the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) to plan a movement to protest against the bill if the government tries to pass it.

"Most of the suggestions of the standing committee have been overlooked," she said.

The bill was supposed to be passed in the budget session of parliament, which ended May 8. A consensus was reached between the government and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after changes suggested by the main opposition party were accepted.

It could not be passed as the session was marred by protests that disrupted the proceedings.

The Left has continued to oppose the bill.