We now come to the practical problems perceived in the LARR act by the successor government (termed the NDA) and the amendments proposed. In a revealing aside, Ramesh & Khan (2015, p.70) confess that the LARR (2013) law was drafted “with the intention to discourage land acquisition”, by adding all these onerous obligations, and thereby moving to a situation where “land acquisition would become a route of last resort” (ibid.). This reminds us of the diversion of forest under the Forest Conservation Act 1980, where left to themselves, the forest authorities would usually have no intention of making it an easy process (one industrialist was reported to have said in frustration that even the environmental clearance could be got, but forest clearance was almost impossible). It also brings up the interesting question of what other options are available in practical terms if a project requires large chunks of land.
There were analogous discontents with the LARR 2013, prompting the new NDA government to propose some amendments in December 2014, and imposed these through the ordnance route as the opposition parties refused to let it be passed in the Rajya Sabha, which stirred a huge hornets’ nest that effectively paralysed Parliament through the monsoon session of 2015. By August, the impasse was given a respite by the government deciding to backtrack on the amendments, and the whole bill being deferred to the winter session of 2015.
Ramesh & Khan (2015) criticize the NDA government’s amendment ordnance in the following terms (op. cit., p. 124). The press releases prior to the ordnance made it appear that there were only two significant proposals in it. One was the extension of the compensation and R&R (Rehabilitation and Resettlement) requirements to the exempted acts listed in Schedule IV, which Ramesh & Khan term as making a virtue out of a necessity, as the original LARR act had itself made this mandatory after the lapse of one year. The other was the exemption given by new Section 10A to certain categories of projects from the more onerous requirements of consent and social impact assessment. Ramesh & Khan criticize this exemption as being worded in a vague manner, for instance, “infrastructure projects (including PPP projects)”, which was not defined precisely anywhere), and which would in effect nullify all the progressive measures and safeguards to affected persons intended in the 2013 act. They make a plea that a fair trial should be given to the existing LARR 2013 act, instead of trying to dilute its effect by such amendments.
Seeing the mood of the people and the stiff resistance to the amendments, the NDA government finally seems to have decided to backtrack and defer consideration of the amendments to the winter session 2015. Further, on closer examination, it seems to have been realised that at least one of the enhanced requirements – that of consent by a large majority – has not been made mandatory for purely government undertakings. Defence, national security and natural calamities have anyway been, in effect, exempted under the applicability of the ‘urgency’ clause. Perhaps the government has decided to go along with the LARR 2013 for the present, as any dilution of the requirements in respect of other categories (such as PPP projects and private sector, however high they may come on the national priorities) may give the NDA an undesirable anti-poor image, to the advantage of the opposition parties.
Ramesh, Jairam and Muhammad Ali Khan. 2015. Legislating for Justice. The Making of the 2013 Land Acquisition Law.
University Press, . New Delhi