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Wednesday 9 November 2011

Press Release : Submission on Land Acquisition Bill to PSC on Rural Development

New Delhi, November 2 : Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development today started its hearing on the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement 2011. NAPM and other constituents of Sangharsh today made their presentation before them. The submission was made by Medha Patkar, Dr. Sunilam (Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, MP), Devram Kanera (Narmada Bachao Andolan), Dr. Rupesh Verma (Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, UP), Vimal Bhai (Matu Jan Sangathan, Uttarakhand), Vijayan M J (Sangharsh), Arun Das (Sangharsh Vahini Manch, Bihar) and Madhuresh Kumar (NAPM). The submission lasted for an hour and half and detailed presentation on the political importance of this legislation and its impact on the millions of farmers and nature resource based communities was made.

The delegation welcomed the fact that Land Acquisition Act, 1894 was being repealed and after the struggle of social movements across the country now displacement, resettlement and rehabilitation has been included on any plan dealing with the land use change. However, the Bill in its current form is not acceptable to us which legitimises for the first time the profit making motives of the private companies in the name of public purpose. Even though it is being projected as a response to the on-going land conflicts in the country but  it will not provide relief and justice to the struggling people and will only further the land conflict.

Medha Patkar submitted, “Bhu Adhigrahan nahi bhu adhikar chahiye (we want land rights and oppose land acquisitions) is not only a slogan but the philosophy and essence of the struggle of thousands of movements engaged in opposing the destruction being caused in the name of development in the country today. The whole framework of eminent domain based land acquisition need to be replaced with the legislation focussing on development planning ensuring consensus of those who are going to part with their land. There is a need to recognise them as an investor in the development process and not only as a victim and once that framework changes the justice to all those project affected people will be done. It is extremely unfortunate that the land acquisition for the private companies for their profit, not even allowed in the 1894 act, is now being allowed in this Bill.”

Dr. Sunilam emphasised that till date nearly 10 crore people have been displaced in this country by various projects since independence but where is the data on what has happened to those families. Let the government come out with a white paper on the status of rehabilitation of those displaced till date. He further added that for the first time there is a recognition of the need for R&R then let this cover and provide justice to all those who are still waiting justice. There has to be a retrospective application of the Bill too all those who have not accepted award, compensation or challenged it and where projects are on-going and the R&R has remained incomplete.

He further submitted that a large amount of prime agricultural land has been diverted for the industrial purposes if the trend continues then it will impact the food security of the nation and hence there has to be a moratorium on any further acquisitions of any kind of agricultural land.  

Dr. Rupesh Verma said that land for land has to be basis of any land acquisition till date and there can’t be any compromise on it. In the name of urbanisation if it is not possible (like in case of NCR) then let the government give 50% of the developed plot back to the farmers. If the land is not used in two years then let it be returned back to the farmers and other affected people and the mandate of land reforms be fulfilled rather than it going back to the government land bank. In every project the project affected people have to be given employment so that their status of living is better than what it was before.

Vimal Bhai added that the definition of project affected people even though is comprehensive but misses those who continue to suffer after the project has been completed, like those affected due to tunnels in the run of the river project and those living around the reservoirs in Bhakra Nangal, Tehri or Narmada who face numerous health related issues due to water logging and otherwise.

Vijayan M J added that there has to be a National Development, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Commission, a statutory body, which will address the concerns of all those displaced and also consider the grievances and challenges to the declared public purpose of the projects.

The team also submitted that minimising displacement has to be the key objective and it can achieved by exploring alternative options to the proposals, limiting excess land and ensuring the true public development purposes. The strongly suggested that Highways has to be brought within the purview of this Bill and can’t be left out of it since they are going to cause major havoc and require huge amount of land and the struggle around Ganga and Yamuna Expressway is a testimony to that.

We can no longer continue forcible acquisitions, which is completely undemocratic and any development plan has to be based on the free prior informed consent of the project affected communities and in line with the provisions contained in 243 D (rural areas) and 243 F (urban areas) which emphasises the role of Gram Sabha and Basti Sabha. The precious minerals and other resources attached to the land are being handed over to the corporations there has to be a way to compensate the communities who are the real owners.

In short, some of the key concerns on the Bill under consideration with the Parliamentary Standing Committee are :

-       The Bill should be titled as 'Development Planning, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill' ensuring no forcible acquisition and protecting the rights of the communities over the land and everything attached to it including the mineral, aquatic and forest cover. Any acquisition should be done only in accordance with the democratically developed plans as per the provisions of Art 243 and PESA norms by involvement of Gram Sabha and Basti Sabha.
-       Public Purpose definition should be limited to core functions of the government performed with the public money and in no case acquisition should be made for the private corporations where they get benefits due to any forcible acquisition of land or any other natural wealth under this act. Any project drawing private profit can't be considered public purpose. We reiterate this and only this can deal with the unjustified inequity in the country today leading to injustice for millions. 
-       Given the low level playing field existing till date between different parties in the process of land acquisition, it is necessary to ensure that even if it is market base purchase of land or other resources by the private parties, including builders, then the state should be duty bound to regulate the market price of resources and ensuring availability of optimum resources of livelihoods for every family especially those belonging to vulnerable section. Thus corporations should also be made liable for the R&R provisions of this bill, which also goes well with the principle of fair play and competitiveness.  
-       Any arbitrary benchmark for the application of R&R provisions should be done away with and every single family directly or indirectly affected by any kind of acquisition should be provided with the resettlement and rehabilitation benefits.
-       We reject market value for the land approach since neither market value is fully worked out nor that automaticallyensures attainment of alternative sources of livelihood especially for the least marketised and monetised community such as Adivasis and Dalits. So, without any ifs and buts appropriate provisions for alternative livelihood or mandatory employment be made for project affected people.
-       The law must address the claims of those already displaced by various projects and address the historical injustice meted to them in the name of Development.

Finally, the team submitted that the hearings by some of the social movement representatives, lawyers, researchers and others in Delhi is not enough and Committee members must hold atleast regional hearings so that the affected people on the ground actually can give their feedback on such an important legislation.

For details contact : Madhuresh 9818905316

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