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Meeting challenges in land acquisition for infra projects

Meeting challenges in land acquisition for infra projects

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India is an agrarian economy with more than half of the population living in rural areas and depending on agriculture for their income. However, since the economic liberalization in the year 1991, India’s focus has mostly driven to the development of other sectors which has paved way for the country’s remarkable economic development making India the 6th largest economy in the world. In the past decade, the government’s attention has been shifted to enhancing the Infrastructure Sector as it is one of the key drivers responsible for India’s propelling economic growth. 

Infrastructure development in India has been at the peak due to various governmental policies which has tremendously invited a lot of foreign direct investments in the country. However, the sector is still faced with a lot of challenges and land acquisition being a major roadblock to the development of infrastructure sector. 

Sarjana Pandey, associate of the law firm Singhania & Co.

Land acquisition is one of the most challenging aspects in developing an infrastructure project in India and has continuously been an area resulting into severe delay in executing these projects. As per a recent report submitted in the Parliament in December 2018, more than 435 infrastructure projects have been delayed due to delay in getting timely possession of the land acquired by the government and delay in getting required regulatory approvals. The government’s commitment in providing for an easy and timely possession of land can be seen in the effort made by it, by enacting the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (LARR Act) which replaced the 120 year old colonial statute, the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.               

The LARR Act was introduced to bring transparency in the process of land acquisition, development of essential infrastructural facilities, urbanization with the least disturbance to the land owners and provide just and fair compensation to the affected families and make adequate provisions for their rehabilitation and resettlement. The Act brought into effect provisions for resettling and rehabilitating the families displaced by land acquisition, making the process more public participative with the people, who’s lands are being acquired were given an equal say in the acquisition process, thus ending the forcible acquisition of land done by the government authorities. However, higher compensation, consent of affected families, comprehensive rehabilitation and resettlement, return of unused land, etc under the LARR Act has led to increase in the cost of land acquisition and has made the whole process of acquiring land more cumbersome.

The LARR was perceived to solve the crisis of land acquisition for development of infrastructure for industries which will support and empower the economy and help in generating jobs for the people in the country. Many government-private companies who entered into contracts for developing the acquired land for industries such as the Special Economic Zone in Nandigram and Tata Motors plant at Singur, were faced with severe protests leading to the projects coming at a standstill. One of the ambitious projects of the current government, the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet Train project has also been suffering from severe strain in acquiring land for the project. Out of the required 1,400 hectares of land only around one hectare of land has been acquired. Even the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor which was announced almost a decade ago is still facing land acquisition issues. Recent issues with the villagers in Jharkhand’s eastern district of Godda moving to the Jharkhand High Court asking it to strike down the contentious acquisition of fertile land for a thermal power project by a private industry further elucidates this fact that land acquisition remains a major hurdle for creation of infrastructure in the country.              

Despite the government of India taking measures for easing the land acquisition process, the task is a bit tedious one as the subject land acquisition falls under the concurrent list of the constitution of India, giving both the central as well as the state government to frame laws pertaining to the it. The state governments have diluted the progressive provisions of the LARR Act, amending them in their favor by issuing notification adversely affecting the livelihood of farmers whose land have been acquired by the government for infrastructure projects. The Supreme Court of India has recently issued a notice to the government of five states Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Jharkhand on a petition filed by social activists challenging the amendments made by the state governments which are contradictory to the central law and dilutes the safeguards provided to land owners against forcible acquisition.

There is a need to make the process of land acquisition smooth in order to balance industrial and infrastructural development with the requirements of the landowners and occupants. It must be realized that private participation is unavoidable to achieve India’s desired level of development. There is a need to relax policies to encourage PPP and private projects. The Government should introduce certain other legislation and procedural changes to facilitate ease of infrastructural development. Expansion of roads and highways can be carried on in a phased manner by first acquiring land to develop two or three way lane projects and multiplying them with increase in traffic. The land acquisitions should be considered on a case to case basis and Social Impact Assessment under the LARR Act can be avoided where the land has no worth and is lying idle. Also, the compensation should be such that it is beneficial to both the seller and the buyer, and terms of the purchase should be reciprocally agreed upon between both the parties. The land to be acquired from the land owners can also be acquired either on a long lease as provided under section 104 of the LARR Act or in the method of equity for the proposed project. In both the cases ownership of the land would remain with the original land owner which will provide a steady income for the affected families. Another aspect that the government should consider is that before sanctioning or announcing an infrastructure project, it should previously acquire the required land and then give assent for the project, which will prevent the economic loss usually borne by the companies and also save government from the strain of any protest being carried out by the land owners while the acquiring the land. The initiative for addressing the core issue relating to land acquisition has to be dealt by both the government and the court which should act in an expeditious manner while dealing with matter pertaining to any conflict regarding the acquisition of land. It is also vital to understand that such changes are on-going, small steps in the right direction can have substantial and progressive effects towards overcoming barriers to land acquisition.

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