Newsclick interviewed Economist Smita Gupta on the issue of Land Acquisition Bill which is scheduled to be tabled in ongoing Parliamentary session. The Land Acquisition Act that the BJP has introduced in Parliament has been opposed not only by anti-NDA parties but also by its allies. Even RSS affiliated Bhartiya Kisan Sangh openly protested against the Amendment and Shiv Sena has decided to oppose it within the parliament. Smita strongly criticized the Bill, and said that it is against the rights of the farmers and meant only for the benefits of few corporates, with Adani and Ambani benefitting the most. BJP’s defense of the bill is an attempt to defend the indefensible – covering an anti-farmer policy in the name of creating employment to help the builder lobby.
Pranjal: Hello and welcome to Newsclick. Today, we have with us Smita Gupta, who is an economist associated with Centre for Adivasi Research and Development. She has been assisting All India Kisan Sabha on the issue of land acquisition and has been helping them in formulating their stands. First of all starting with the thing, what was the need to bring an entire bill which is different from 2013 bill?
Smita Gupta: The reason they brought it is very simple. It is as a pay back to the corporates who supported them during the election campaign. The amount of money that was poured into the campaign obviously, this was pay back. What does the bill do? If you look at what the amendments are, they are basically making acquisition much cheaper, much faster and far less transparent and democratic than it was even in the 2013 act, which also has it's problem. It's not a perfect act.
Pranjal: When you talk about certain amendments that have been made, there is an amendment where there is no need to take consent and the social impact assessment clause has also been removed. Can you explain what are these amendments that have been made?
Smita: Actually, the main changes that they have tried to bring are in those very features which were the most positive aspects of the 2013 act. What we had was a colonial act which allowed forcible acquisition and the supreme court had in many judgments actually pressed upon the central government to democratize the act, to bring a better act. So what did the government do? It actually went ahead and made amendments and brought an act which had social impact assessment, they brought an act where there would be a body of experts, there would be a body of social scientists who would come and they would assess the displacement, the environmental impact, the kind of social impact on say tribals, women and so on. So first of all there would be scientific and objective assessment of the impact of the project of the public purpose. Does it actually served a public purpose or not. I mean it's not for the government to say it is a public purpose. The race course in Delhi is supposed to be a public purpose, what kind of public purpose is that? So a democratic assessment of public purpose and then consent. If you are acquiring somebody's land and if you are confident that you are serving a public purpose then in that case, why should you not go and take the consent?
Pranjal: Basically, it plays with the democratic nature of the entire law.
Smita: That's right. Now, these basic pillars of the law where the consent would be taken. It wasn't going to be taken for everything by the way. The 2013 act also was it consent only for public private partnership and for purely private projects. Now, if consent was to be taken only for these, even there it has to be diluted. Social impact assessment is completely done away with. The definition of a corridor, an industrial corridor has been extended by 2 kms on either side. So it's huge, huge amount of land which is going to be taken over, prosecution of guilty government servants who are not following due process, that has been made such a difficult act that you can not hold them accountable ever. The way they have gone about doing these amendments. Therefore, if you wanted me to say in one sentence, everything democratic that had been brought in in the 2013 act is not been taken away by these ordinances and amendments.
Pranjal: The new bill also removes the provision to acquire only barren land. Now, they can take the agricultural land also. Also, there used to be a slab of five years that the land is not utilized you have to return it back, not it has been removed.
Smita: Look, let me put it in this way. Even in the 2013 act, it didn't really say that you can only acquire barren land. It said to the extent of possible. But even those lands by the way, dry lands, the lands which are not double cropped, un-irrigated land, the poorest people of India live on that lands. So even there, I feel there should have been much stricter provisions. But even the safeguards that 2013 act had have been diluted which means the food security of the country. I mean quite apart from the livelihood security of the individual land owner who is going to lose his or her land quite apart from that issue. It is a question of national self sufficiency and food grain production and that is going to be severely compromised by this. So that's one thing. As far as return of land is concerned, there again there was a catch in 2013 act itself which said that if it is unutilized for five years, it could go back to a land bank or to the farmer. Today, that has been completely diluted. And they have said you know project takes lot of time so it has to be five years or some reasonably specified period. So again this is a concession to those corporates who are sitting on hundreds and hundreds of acres of land which they have not used.
Pranjal: Yeah, when you talk about hundred and hundreds of acres of land, report came that only 40 percent of the land acquired for SEZs have been utilized by now. So do you think it is also a method to ensure that these corporate houses can gain real state business out of these land acquired?
Smita: You know actually what we call speculative sporter. It is not just speculative spotting through land acquisition but you look at coal mines. People have taken coal mines, they have not done mining. People have taken land for SEZs there have not built SEZs. So the reason is they are sitting on those lands. Those lands will invariably become dearer. A lot of them are close to urban areas so the spread of urbanization as you said real estate development is going to become dearer. So without doing anything productive, with out any employment generation, without any penny of investment they are going to gain windfall profits and that's the whole idea to make money through speculative spotting.
Pranjal: They also say that the land acquisition which they are proposing, the bill which they are proposing, the amount which will paid for land acquisition will be four times in urban area and six times in a rural area. Where does it stand today because when we look at the market, the registration which is done is fairly on the low cost than what is the original cost.
Smita: You see, as far as costing is concerned, pricing is concerned, it is a very tricky issue. There are three issues in this. Sub issues rather. The first point is that now today I am agriculturist, I am farming. So my land is worth may be a lac in acre. Now, they give me six lakhs for this and people expect to be happy with that. But the moment some big real estate agent steps in and takes that money that becomes worth hundred crores perhaps. Now that is the real value of the land when the land use changes. So I as the original owner, what I must get. Must I get six lakhs or must I get share in that 100 crores. So therfore, the argument that we are giving six times or eight times or twenty times of the current market price is not correct. What they should be giving is a share in the enhanced value because of the changed land use. That's the one issue. The second is to linking it to average price of the registered deed and we all know it is under reporting, we know the amount of under reporting to save on stamp duty. That is the second problem and the third cleverness that they are trying to show is that the supreme court order which says the highest exemplar which means the highest value of land which any farmer can come and say you know there was a transaction which was done at such and such price. That is what you determine the entire setting. But they are going away from that. They are saying average pricing. Now the average is across underreported prices for registration so you can imagine what the base is going to be.
Pranjal: When you look at the current BJP regime the way it has been bringing corporate houses in various agencies, be it FDI in insurance and defense, what do you think is the way ahead for this government because they really don't have a majority in Rajya Sabha.
Smita: I really don't know what they are planning because as far as the land bill is concerned by all accounts, I went for a meeting the other day where the members of the JPC said that there is an equal split in the joint parliamentary itself between those who are pro and those who are against. At the same time there are about five or six people who at the moment are neither here or there. But the JPC they may or may not be able to push their view through. As far as parliament is concerned, in Loksabha they have the numbers. But what about Rajyasabha. I think they are going to find it impossible to push the bill through there and what stands for the land acquisition act will stand for all the others. Which is why if you notice the bogey they are raising these days is about leaving it to the states and that is going to be awful because then there is going to be whole lot of states which are going to ahead what Rajasthan did which is to even make a protest against the land acquisition is a crime. Where a farmer can be arrested. So therefore, this is not the right way to go and I think they must have the 2013 act at the very minimum because even that act is that really farmers need or wanted.
Pranjal: You have been very much associated with the movements on the ground, All India Kisan Sabha. What's the position of the All India Kisan Sabha on this that land acquisition for development is termed as a necessary thing. But how should it should be justified and what process should be followed to acquire the land.
Smita: All India Kisan Sabha along with the Adivasi Adhikar Rashtra Manch and many other such organizations of farmers have been talking not from now but for the past 30 or 40 years, strongly talking about a proper definition of public purpose and only ground on which the land acquisition is justified is public purpose. Now, at the moment they have diluted the definition so much that they have brought in the corporate sector within the very definition of public purpose and anything goes. If you look at the list that they have put out there, I can't think actually of any activity which does not qualify as public purpose. So the first issue is public purpose must be narrowly, rigidly and clearly defined. The second issue is it's not enough to define it, who will determine it? Who will decide whether it is public purpose or not. Here, it has to be both the social impact assessment, it has also to be Gram Sabha and the effected people giving concern and finally it should be opened completely to the judicial scrutiny and the court should be allowed to listen to the protest against it and to entertain all kinds of please against it. So the public purpose is a very crucial issue and the procedure and the due process should be such that there should be no short cuts. So at the moment you have urgency clause, the government can decide, I need this urgently so you put hundred democratic things in it and then you say in case of urgency none of this will apply. Now, what is the point of having a law when the government can decide what constitutes urgency or for example they have put a whole list of acts in the schedule 4 which are beyond the scrutiny of the new land acquisition and interestingly, everything that is there in schedule 4 is the land acquisition by the central government. So everything which the central government needs land for National highway, railways, coal mining, there is a whole lot of..
Pranjal: There is lot of bills coming on it.
Smita: Yes. So therefore, what you find is that they have created so many exceptions that even the limited safeguards in the 2013 act get violated by having urgency clauses and having these exemptions. So, the first point is there should be no exemptions, there should be no urgency clauses. The second point is we must have democratic scrutiny of public purpose, of due process and a proper participatory scrutiny of public purpose. I think without that, we can not have undemocratic act which deprive only source of their livelihood.
Pranjal: Thank you Smita for giving us your time and as the things proceed we will be coming back to you on such issues. Thank you for watching Newsclick.
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