The recently enacted Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013, that replaces the earlier Act of 1894, was required to lend greater transparency in the land acquisition process. However, a review of the new Act shows that there are several critical issues emanating from its various provisions and which make the acquisition process extremely complex, lengthy and difficult, besides having huge cost implications. In fact, large ongoing government projects are already facing extreme difficulty in acquiring land as implementation of the Act has become nearly impossible. That the implementation of the Act is a major concern has been acknowledged even by senior government officials. Moreover, while the Act has come into force from January 1, 2014, the accompanying rules are yet to be finalised. Even as we wait for the final set of rules, it is clear that a comprehensive review of this Act is a must.
One of the critical issues that need to be addressed relates to the rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) provisions. While it is important to provide fair compensation to land owners and ensure livelihood security of affected families, the Act seems to have overplayed ownership of land as a means of ensuring livelihood security by making R&R mandatory for all land acquisitions, including private purchase. In reality, true livelihood security comes from sustained employment opportunities, which can be achieved through rapid industrial development. Land is a critical resource for setting up industries and related development projects. If the acquisition ensures fair compensation as decided between a willing buyer and a willing seller and consequent industrial development takes care of livelihood security, then R&R provisions for private purchase have little merit for application.
Nevertheless, state governments are currently framing rules related to threshold of R&R provisions. FICCI has suggested that Central government should prescribe a model criterion for minimum threshold to ensure harmony in guidelines across states. The threshold for R&R applicability for private acquisitions could be set at either of the following: (a) number of affected families is less than or equal to 400; or (b) land to be acquired is less than or equal to 500 acres, or (c) employment generated is more than or equal to 1,000 numbers. If any one of these conditonalities is met, then R&R provisions should not apply.
A related issue that merits consideration is the provision on compensation to the land owners, wherein consented amount is placed as one of the