An investigation by Land Conflict Watch into the land acquisition procedures of three states—Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu—has exposed how states are using old defunct laws primarily to acquire land for large corporate projects.
A long struggle had led to the implementation of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (LARR Act). Despite this, the three states have continued to use their respective laws—which were based on the 1894 colonial law—to acquire land for high-profile projects including the world’s largest oil refinery in Maharashtra, the Chennai Metro Rail project and an industrial corridor in Karnataka, states the report.
Speaking to NewsClick, Nihar Gokhale, the author of the report, said, “The state governments are not using the LARR Act. What I found interesting was that these are high-profile projects with Saudi Aramco involved. However, the state government is using defunct laws from 1894. So, it becomes clear that they are willingly using regressive laws.”
The LARR Act replaced the colonial-era Land Acquisition Act of 1894. The new law enhanced compensation for land owners, made land owners’ consent mandatory before their land was acquired, and required projects to first study the social impact of the land acquisition. In a symbolic move, on July 3, 2019, the Madras High Court struck down Tamil Nadu’s land acquisition laws, holding that these laws became invalid the day the LARR Act was passed. The court cancelled all land acquisition carried out under these laws since 2014, except where the land had already been put to use.
Gokhale said, “Even for high-profile projects like the oil refinery in Maharashtra, the state government is using defunct laws from 1894 and not the LARR. It is clear that they are willingly using regressive laws.”
The Madras High Court judgment has called into question the continued use of old state laws in Maharashtra, where it has been unchallenged so far, and Karnataka, where a case is pending before the state high court.
“Another crucial thing, as I have shown through the report, is how officials in Maharashtra and Karnataka still want to use the old laws despite the Madras High Court Judgement. This is, perhaps, because for decades, they have acquired land only using these provisions. The state governments are now willing to pay higher compensation as per the LARR, but they are unwilling to seek consent or do the social impact assessment,” added Gokhale.
The report states: “After the LARR Act came into force in 2013, states such as Gujarat, Jharkhand, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh enacted amended versions of the law or brought in new rules to bypass its provisions. These dilutions were widely reported and led to protests and demonstrations. But the use of outdated laws by Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Karnataka to bypass LARR Act, 2013, has escaped public scrutiny so far.”
As far as the old state laws are concerned, The Karnataka Industrial Areas Development (KIAD) Act of 1966 empowered the state government to declare any piece of land an industrial area and acquire it, regardless of the owners’ consent. Compensation was to be decided through negotiations between the government and the land owners. And in case they did not agree, the Act referred to procedures under the 1894 Act to calculate compensation.
The Maharashtra Industrial Development Act, 1961 and Tamil Nadu Land for Industrial Purposes Act, 1997, carried similar provisions. The report says, “In contrast, the LARR Act requires, as we said, the consent of at least 70% of the affected people in case the land is required by a private firm or for a public-private project. It makes non-landowners such as sharecroppers and farm workers eligible for compensation and rehabilitation, and carries special provisions for Dalit and Adivasi families. The state laws have none of these provisions.”
The report also exposes how the acquisition process by the states has gone unhindered, be it the Konkan refinery project—which has been met with protests from farmers—or Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Limited’s refinery, which wants 960 acres of land in its surrounding areas. In both the cases, old laws are being applied by the states for the acquisition process.
The use of these laws by the states and the deliberate manipulation of the legal processes to benefit corporate interests can now undergo legal scrutiny following the precedent which has been set by the Madras High Court.
Also read: Farmers Protest Against GAIL Pipeline Through Farm Lands