Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation & Resettlement Bill (LARR) 2011 – its real purpose

A draft of the Land Acquisition and Relief & Rehabilitation Bill (LARR) was approved by the Cabinet and tabled in Parliament on September 7, 2011 and referred to a Parliamentary Standing Committee on September 15. The Standing Committee is to submit its report on the draft in 3 months.

A draft of the Land Acquisition and Relief & Rehabilitation Bill (LARR) was approved by the Cabinet and tabled in Parliament on September 7, 2011 and referred to a Parliamentary Standing Committee on September 15. The Standing Committee is to submit its report on the draft in 3 months. The government aims to have the draft legislation passed as law in the coming winter session of Parliament.

The bill purports to replace the outdated 1894 colonial Act, but the basic orientation of the LARR is not very different. It has been enacted to enable land to be acquired for infrastructure and other large-scale industrialization projects by private companies, while there is much talk of addressing the “concerns of farmers and those whose livelihood will be affected by the acquisition of the land.”The Bill admits that the main objective is to facilitate land acquisition for industrialization, infrastructure and urbanization but calls for a “balance” between this objective and addressing the concerns of those who will be affected! Our people’s experience so far has been that many promises have been made to those who have been ousted from their own land, that the concerned project will bring them a bright future, but they have not seen even a small ray of that promised light!

The legislation does not address the questions from the point of optimizing land-use for ensuring food security of the people or ensuring the livelihood of those dependent on land. Such larger social priorities have no place in the orientation being followed by the capitalist state to make land a commodity. The legislation is a push in the direction of commercialization of all land, of creating a market for land. This will result in the flow of speculative capital into the land market, resulting in volatile land prices and price bubbles.

There is a lot of talk about compensation to the persons affected by the acquisition, the formula for its calculation and the mechanism for awarding the same. Already, the draft submitted to the Standing Committee has drastically reduced the proposed compensation, if compared with the draft that the ministry published for comment. Obviously, the only "public comment" it has accepted is that of the capitalists wanting to acquire land as cheaply as possible! Furthermore, people’s experience shows how this or that formula can be manipulated, how many people are deprived of any compensation by the authorities.

Under this legislation, there is scope for Government to acquire land for its own use, to hold and control, for government to acquire land with the ultimate purpose to transfer it for the use of private companies for stated public purpose and for government to acquire land for immediate and declared use by private companies for public purpose, provided that 80% of the project affected families have given their consent through a prior informed process.It is well known that such “consent” can be manufactured, when the state power is working at the behest of the capitalists and in the context of the wide inequity of power and means at the disposal of the private companies as compared with those whose land is to be acquired. So called "Public hearings" which are regularly organized in recent years on projects like dams, mines, steel plants etc. in different regions of the country have been exposed in most cases as a total sham where the authorities working in the service of the capitalists ensure that the public are kept out of the hearings, so that the will of the executive and the capitalists prevails. Nor will this ensure that peasant families who do not have any alternative source of livelihood and not willing to sell the land are protected from acquisition of their land. A whole community or collective could be in the “minority” 20% and their land could be acquired “legally” whether or not they want to sell.

One of the features of the LARR legislation is that this Act will not have “primacy” over 16 other Central laws for land acquisitions including that most anti-people legislation – the SEZ Act 2005. It must be remembered that in April 2007, the UPA government had withdrawn the freeze on SEZs and this led to transfer of hundreds of thousands of hectares from the hands of peasants and working families into the hands of big capitalist corporations. So, land acquisition under SEZ Act can continue as before.

This negation of primacy of the LARR also means that land acquisition under the Atomic Energy Act, 1962, the Land Acquisition (Mines) Act 1885, the Petroleum and Minerals Pipelines (Acquisition of Right of Uses in Land) Act 1962, the Coal Bearing Areas Acquisition and Development Act 1957 and the Electricity Act 2003 among several others will be exempt from the LARR law.This means that people of Jaitapur in Maharastra, Koodangkulam in Tamilnadu or Gorakhpur in Haryana, who are protesting against acquisition of their lands for a nuclear power project, have no recourse under this legislation.Likewise, the government can use this legislation to acquire land for highways, airports, power generation, etc. and deprive the people there of their land and livelihood.

Deceitful and dishonest process

The government showed great speed in getting the draft ready for its introduction in Parliament – it was one of the first and urgent tasks undertaken by Jairam Ramesh who was appointed as Minister for Rural Development in early July this year.

The draft Bill had been put up,initially, around end-July on the Ministry’s website allegedly for public consultation,the last date for which was announced as August 31. But the Minister cut short that process; he sent the revised draft Bill for inter-ministerial consultation on August 12 so that it may get Cabinet approval by the first week of September. So the so called public consultation was abruptly cut short.

The process that the government applied clearly reflects that it is not interested in the view of the people resisting land acquisition; it merely wants the appearance of having gone through a process of asking for views. Views submitted by organizations and groups challenging the draft law from the point of view of the peasants and toiling masses have elicited no response. Government has maintained a deafening silence. In fact there has been no consultation or discussion with the people in a real sense.

The LARR should be opposed because it is oriented to interests of capitalists at the expense of the interests of those who live off the land, and the general interests of society. It legitimizes, like all the earlier drafts, ‘right’ of capitalist monopolies to get hold of whatever tracts of land they want in order to reap maximum profits, under the guise of “public purpose” and “development”.

Mazdoor Ekta Lehar condemns the draft LARR as anti-peasant and anti national! We demand a new legislation that will harmonise the different uses of land and will ensure the livelihood of the peasants, tribal and other collectives of toilers.We demand an immediate halt to buying and selling of land, pending the adoption of such a new legislative framework.

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