Land Bill canít leave ground for ambiguity
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The issue of doing away with the archaic 1894 Land Acquisition Act has gone through another set of motions ó considered by the Cabinet, Parliamentary Standing Committee and Group of Ministers, just as during UPA I.
The debate around it has been portrayed as a tussle between being pro-farmer or pro-industry, or striking a balance between the two. Political stakeholders ó ranging from Mamata Banerjee to Rahul Gandhi ó have taken public positions mostly on the basis of political expediency.
However, political expediency should not be the guide for a futuristic long-lasting legislation. Nor should the Bill aim to please Sonia Gandhi or Rahul or agriculture or industry. Actually, a land acquisition legislation should not be expected to save agriculture, or promote urbanisation and industrialisation ó there could be separate policies and laws for that.
What a land acquisition Bill should instead lay down are clear, transparent, fair, least-discretionary and time-bound rules and procedures for transactions between a group of owners and those seeking to acquire their land.
The Bill should ensure that acquisitions get a transparent closure and do not continue to fester, leaving no room for ambiguities and opaque discretionary provisions. Violations of procedures by either party should be penalised. This will be in the interest of both the parties.
With compensation likely to remain a contentious issue given that the floor levels of relief fixed today in the legislation may become obsolete soon in a growing economy like ours, the Bill should have provisions either for updating itself or have scope for negotiations between owners and those acquiring land for a market-based price. The Congress asserts the Bill is very much part of its political agenda. However, given the task at hand, one can only keep one's fingers crossed in it making through the current Lok Sabha.
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