Land Acquisition: Fair, Just & Equitable

By Prabhakar Timble
20 July 2011 11:59 IST

The trend to consider the power of land acquisition as supreme is on the wane. The use of the 117 year old Land Acquisition Act is questioned at each and every stage. Earlier, the courts invoking the “eminent domain” theory and pervasive power of the State were reluctant to quash acquisition notifications. The issue largely handled by the courts was the adequacy of compensation. In the earlier period, land acquisition was resorted to mainly for public sector projects, public and community services such as dams, roads, bridges, highways, hospitals, railways. Of late, the government is largely invoking the Act for residential, industrial and commercial purposes along with the urgency clause. This includes acquisition of vast rural lands for commercial purposes to be provided to private companies.

 Judicial stiffness

In the first week of July, the Supreme Court quashed a 2007 notification of the UP government to acquire 156 hectares of land in Greater Noida. Terming the acquisition as a ‘sinister’ campaign to grab land of the poor farmers the highest court decreed for return of the land to the farmers and fined the Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority (GNIDA) for wasting the time of the court having appealed against the order of the Allahabad High Court quashing the notification. In the instant case, the acquisition was for industrial purpose. However, the land was sold to real estate developers. No opportunity and hearing was provided to the dispossessed through the application of the urgency clause. The compensation fixed for the owners was Rs. 800/- per sq. metre as opposed to the official Rs. 12000/- charged to the builders by GNIDA. To my mind, this would have been legalized dacoity had the judiciary not upset the acquisition cart of the government.

Looking at the current trend of judicial law making it would be just not enough that acquisition is for a ‘public purpose’. The government will have to come transparent that alternative methods or locations are exhausted and that the present quantum of land to be acquired would involve the least disturbance and displacement. It is also necessary to account for the quantum of land for the project to rule out any excessive acquisition. Courts will not mechanically accept the urgency clause in acquisitions unless urgency is necessitated due to specific compelling reasons.

Apart from judicial stiffness, opposition to land acquisition is coming from the affected families, political parties and NGOs spearheading public causes of the underprivileged and dispossessed. Some label such revolts as the work of anti-developmental forces. However, it is equally true that land acquisitions by the government for itself or for private companies has turned owners into paupers, landless labourers and the otherwise farming families are forced to work as gardeners, domestic helpers, construction labourers for their survival and subsistence. Substantial net benefits have accrued to bureaucrats, politicians, new owners of these lands and the owners of neighbouring lands.

Acquisitions in Goa

I am told that during the Portuguese rule in Goa, landlords used to welcome land acquisition. They used to be after the agricultural department and the revenue authorities imploring them to acquire lands. This was because of absence of opportunities and sources of income during this period. Even during the first decade of liberated Goa, people used to meekly accept land acquisition as the price of creation of infrastructure facilities and investment opportunities. Of late we find that each and every project involving land acquisition is being opposed. The reasons for this trend which in a way halts infrastructure and over all development of the State are easy to locate.

Considering the land under forests, mining and eco-sensitive areas, that Goa faces a land crunch for development is a reality. There are also many other realities created by the greedy few. Many properties have been purchased for a song by politicians under the threat of land acquisition. Although, these are acts not amounting to robbery in the legal sense, they are nothing shorter than that. Past land acquisitions have provided peanuts to the owners and caju-nuts to the politicians in the seat as Ministers or Chairmen of Planning & Development Authorities or public corporations mainly the Industrial Development Corporation. The proof is their uncivil expenditure, unaccounted election spending, “benami” businesses and personal bungalows/properties which will put the living descendants of the one-time royal families to shame. They learn their primary lessons in politics only through their chosen medium i.e. 25% on public contracts, premium on transfer of land, protection and no-nuisance fee for mining, gambling, drug and liquor trade. The unearned rise in value of properties surrounding the acquired properties due to development is a cruel mockery of the owners who had to surrender their properties.

Added to all this, there is a threat perception since the land carpet has already gone out of the hands of locals. In many talukas of Goa, landlords and tenants together have sold lands to non-locals contributing to identity crisis. The coastline from Betul to Terecol is sold out. Lands here are cheaper for the outsider. The built up real estate is also cheaper for the outsider and highly unaffordable for the local. Government acquisitions also are prejudiced in favour of the non-local. Now, the real estate tiger is on the prowl for the hinterlands. A large percentage of “communidade” lands have followed the same trend. We have to devise ways and means to utilize these lands for development of occupations of locals maintaining the ownership character as before. Land remaining unutilized and untapped is a criminal waste.

Speed up proposed amendments

Having said this all, let me also say that we need land for development. Forcible acquisition cannot be the answer. We have to find that acquisition for public purpose also satisfies the private and personal purpose of the owners and dispossessed. This should also form the part of the public purpose of the government.

The amendments made by the Haryana Government to the land acquisition act, the “Magarpatta” model of development of township (Pune) wherein the 123 families owning 700 acres were made the stakeholders, the proposed re-working done by the Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority to make the acquisition acceptable to the farmers whose land is sought to be acquired, the proposed Land Acquisition Bill to be tabled before Parliament in this August and the recommendations made by the National Advisory Committee under the chairmanship of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi would definitely bring the progressive changes in the land acquisition approach of the government. The Goa Law Commission has also studied the issues and made recommendations to the Government of Goa for amendments to Land Acquisition Act.

It is expected that the reformulated land acquisition act will provide for an equitable handling of the rights of the owners and dispossessed. This would mean cash compensation higher than the market price, payment of an annuity for 33 years due to expected rise in land values every year, giving part of the developed land to the original owners to bring original owners almost on par with the owners of neighbouring lands i.e. whose lands are not acquired, rehabilitation wherever necessary and possible in terms of providing employment in the proposed project, provision of dwelling house/plot/flat/business premises depending on the nature of the project for which the land is sought to be acquired and making the owners of the land shareholders/stakeholders in the project itself. 

Land is a scarce and costly resource. Any other resource can be augmented easily, with land it is impossible. Over and above this, issues of identity, livelihood, and environmental balance, social and economic equity are linked to land and ownership. The proposed amendments should address and answer these issues. 

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Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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Previous Comments

The Land Acquisition Act 1894 is a British Legacy adopted by us and misused and abused in all possible manner in the last 64 years.

It is ruthlessly used to snatch the means of survival from the poor farmers--thousands of whom are forced to commit suicide every year.

In Goa too this act has been misused time and again to snatch the land from the farmers and force them to knock the doors of the judiciary. The Konkan Railways Land acquisition in early 90 s in South Goa is a typical example where the Land was acquired -- 80%, compensation paid--then again the price of land was reduced to as low as Rs 3 per square metre by making use of an award by some collector and the farmers were issued notice to refund a part of the compensation already paid. It was alleged in the news media that this was done by the then Collector under political interference to make people go against the Konkan Railways Project.The farmers who never wanted to go to the judiciary--were thus forced to knock the doors of the Courts as they were unable to pay back the money demanded back. And the Govt has gone in appeals from Sessions Court to High Courts against the farmers in many cases and some of the cases are still pending in those Courts.

The common man has seen this oppressive Act being misused by many powerful politicians to threaten others to grab their land or face the Acquisition.

It is time the Authorities look into this mess and set the things right...

- vishwas Prabhudesai, Loliem | 22 nd July 2011 11:24

 

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