Given his role in the advanced stage of work in 9 projects in the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation’s (DMICDC) worth R1.2 lakh crore—land has been acquired for 7 already—industry secretary Amitabh Kant is not someone whose opinion can be easily discounted. So when the former DMICDC managing director—as industry secretary, he is now the
ex officio chairman—tells a chamber of commerce that the land acquisition law needs to be amended if India’s urbanisation is to proceed, he knows what he is talking about. According to Kant, work on most large urbanisation/road projects, already lagging badly, ground to a halt after the Land Acquisition and Resettlement and Rehabilitation (LARR) Act was passed.
Given that there are no real land markets in rural areas, LARR raised compensation levels dramatically. It said the highest price at which land had been sold would be taken as a base price, and this would be raised four times for purposes of compensation. While LARR would have done well to stop here, it went on to insist on a Social Impact Assessment for even private purchases of land above a certain size, insisted that those displaced be provided alternate housing, employment and so on. All of which, not only raises costs dramatically, it increases the time taken to acquire land immensely—indeed, since R&R will be required for most projects, irrespective of the price paid for land, the pace of land acquisition depends upon how fast the government does the R&R work; the private sector is to pay the government for this.
While the BJP’s manifesto talks of the need to create 100 new cities and a diamond quadrilateral of bullet trains, the manifesto has steered clear of whether LARR is to be amended. Instead, it talks of a new land use policy, with a land use authority, which will look at how non-cultivable land can be acquired keeping in mind the interests of the farmer, food production goals as well as the economic goals of the country. In other words, we’re still no closer to knowing whether land acquisition will become easier were Narendra Modi to come to power, or whether those 100 cities—or the diamond quadrilateral—will ever get built.