Balanced Land Acquisition

Land acquisition bill – The buzz(talk) in the recent weeks… And, most of the arguments surrounding this bill are binary i.e. pro-development, anti-farmer. Such arguments lead to a natural question – Whether we have gone to such a state that “development” and “farmer” are mutually exclusive in this country? I attempted to find an answer with un-biased, neutral view. Unfortunately, as in many key issues, the media (as per my search) didn’t provide any non-polarised material on this topic. The only way to get some insights was to go through some of the “opposite” views and read between the lines. I thought of sharing my observations and opinion (hope it matters to our lawmakers) in this post.
 
There are 2 key changes in the current bill (which is pending approval in Rajya Sabha) that have led to heated debates, stirs – (1) Inclusion of 5 additional categories (within which Private hospitals & schools have been removed as per the latest amendment moved in Lok Sabha) (2) Social Impact Assessment (SIA) survey that requires 80% (for private projects) and 70% (for PPP projects) consent of the impacted farmers. Of these, (1) seems to be opposed for the sake of debating. So, let us focus on (2).
 
Govt’s stand on SIA: 80% or 70% consent is unrealistic and hence stalls the projects
Opposition’s stand on SIA: Removal of SIA is anti-farmer and will lead to fertile lands being grabbed without any consideration for agriculture
 
If you weigh both the above standpoints as a neutral observer, you’ll find validity in both of them. In our country where the voter turnout is less than 70% and parties/coalitions with approx. 40% of votes polled (i.e. out of that less than 70% voting) clinch power to run the States/Country, how can you expect 80% or 70% consent from a sub-set of population? It is definitely unrealistic and is as good as leaving the lands “as-is” instead of setting a land acquisition process. On the other hand, it’s not uncommon to find our officials falling prey to money power. Hence, if consent clause is completely removed, it only gives the bureaucrats a free hand to approve land acquisitions at their will (though the Land acquisition bill may want them to check certain critical aspects in the right spirit).
Given this scenario, what can be done? In my opinion, there needs to be a balanced approach (instead of taking an “all” or “nothing” stand) to expedite development without compromise on the interests of the impacted farmers. Why can’t the consent % be made 51% (as against the 80% for private projects) and 40% (as against the 70% for PPP projects)? Such a % change will not only involve the impacted farmers in the process but also reduce the time spent (at least by 50%) on land acquisition for development projects.

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