By Hari Shankar

Edited by Anjini Chandra

India is the land of the rich and the poor, of engineers and peasants. India is the land of people and the people’s mandate, but above all, it is the land of insufficient lands.

From the day the Modi government was elected to the people’s chair, a flood of optimism and unending expectations have been flowing through the nation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shown that he means business, and has proven it by the recent passing of three important ordinances. The most socially critical and impacting of the three is the ‘land acquisition ordinance’ enacted by the government.

The land acquisition issue has been under great deliberation since 1894, the year in which the land acquisition bill was passed. The Land Acquisition Act, 1894 was to India what the Land Decree was to the USSR. Lands could be taken over by the government according to what it considered to be “urgent”, and arbitrary acquisitions were made while the adequacy of compensation was ignored. While communism dominated land acquisition in the USSR, in India this act was used for particular capitalist motives. Be it the widespread usurping of villages for the construction of Special Economic Zones (SEZ’s), or the claiming of fertile lands to create concrete jungles, the Land Acquisition Act was a powerful tool in the hands of the government, used to promote crony capitalism.

When the West Bengal government planned to expropriate 10,000 acres (4,000 ha) of land for a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) to be developed by the Indonesian-based Salim Group in 2007, the acquisition was contended and revolted against. That catastrophic event catapulted the passing of: “The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013”.

It clearly brought out the socialist stand that the Congress Party, then in power, was trying to pursue, to conceal its failure in the economic front with the elections approaching. The government made stringent rules, curbing the arbitrary allocation of fertile land, while hiking the compensation given to the land owners. The government could then acquire land only for a public purpose without the owner’s consent, and this very clause was considered a roadblock in the development agenda of the nation.

Now, Narendra Modi has used the ordinance route to alter the socialistic rules, and bring back business into the country. Land is one basic factor which every producer requires, and businesses swarms where suitable land is available. Be it Detroit or our own Allahabad, big industrial centres have flourished in areas of abundant resources and fertile lands. Modi, following the Bhagwati model, did what is best suited for business, while simultaneously enhancing the social aspects of acquisition. Having found “50 faults” in the draft made by the Congress, the government took to rectifying the same by rolling out the land acquisition ordinance in 2014, which turned quite a few heads. Though ordinances are against the spirit of democracy, it was only fair to undertake them when the Parliament refused to support the spirit of democracy. The ruckus in the Rajya Sabha prompted the government to take the ordinance route.

The ordinance in itself has a good spirit, showing the clear intent of the government to clear administrative roadblocks and red tapes, as the criterion for the acquisition of land has been eased. According the previous act, acquired land, if not worked upon within a period of five years, was to be returned to the seller. The new government has recognised the fact that certain projects like oil exploration or refinery, as well as various housing projects, have a long planning phase and gestation period. They cannot wait for the entire plan to be drawn out before acquiring land for the project. There are many processes involved between the acquisition of land and the starting of work, and this gestation period is unusually long for some industries. Therefore, this clause has been rightly removed.

The social factor, too, has not been ignored. In five situations of acquisition, including both public and private use, the compensation and rehabilitation terms have been drastically increased. This ordinance caters well to both the industries and the land owners. This move is apolitical and is necessary when considered in sync with ‘The Make In India Programme’. This ordinance shall soon be passed as a law, which will prop up India’s image in the world as an investment haven with convenient rules.

It is only time that we have wide acquiescence to this liberalised piece of legislation on land acquisition.

G Harishankaris a first year student of Sri Ram College Of Commerce where he is pursuing B.Com Hons. He enjoys balancing the various hats donned by him. He is an active participant of his college Nukkad Natak Toli and is a sketch artist. Friends are his only prized possessions and he loves writing poems and reading and reviewing poetry. He is a nerd of the highest order and his hardworking qualities complement this nature of his.

Posted by The Indian Economist | For the Curious Mind