FINALLY the state government has framed and notified the draft rules under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Act, asking the citizens to submit their suggestions within 15 days. It is deplorable that the government took more than five years to frame the draft rules. A good provision is for conducting a social impact assessment (SIA) whenever any large area is acquired for a project. The draft rules provide for definition for the compensation to be paid to the land owners based on the market value of the land and distance from an urban area. Whenever land is to be acquired for a project in the rural areas, the market value of such land calculated by the collector, the designated authority, shall be multiplied by two if the area is more than 20 km from an urban area. If the property to be acquired is between 5 km and 20 km from an urban area the market value of such land should be calculated by the authority by multiply the rate at one-and-a-half times.
According to the draft rules, the state government will have to wrap up the process of assessing the social impact of a project within six months and get the consent letters from land losers. A social impact assessment study should be conducted in consultation with concerned village panchayat, municipality or the municipal corporation. This process has to be followed by a public hearing in the vicinity of land which is sought to be acquired. The SIA report, along with a plan, has to be submitted within six months from the date of commencement of the study. A notable provision is that the government has sought to give social activists and professionals a greater say in the decision making process. The team conducting SIA should have on its board independent practitioners, academicians, social activists, technical experts, who should include at least one woman. It is good that the government will work to eliminate room for conflicts of interest. With many complaints of nepotism and favouritism levelled in the cases of land acquisitions in the past the authorities have provided for stringent measures to rule out such a possibility, which should be appreciated.
The onus of obtaining prior consent of the families which will be affected by the project before the land is acquired for public-private partnership projects would lay with the collector. The collector of either district in the state would be designated as the notified authority for land acquisition. The collector would have to conduct a survey and undertake a census of the affected families within a period of two months to rule out possibility of any omission and commission. There have been cases of vocal individuals, vested interests and NGOs raising objections to every project, delaying implementation of rules, schemes, policies and projects. Let us hope the rules, once finalized, make it possible for the government to go with the land acquisition process by taking along the people concerned with a satisfactory compensation. The rules for acquisition should be explicit and the authorities should not leave loopholes for vested interests to “misuse” them and play spoilsports in setting up public projects. Precise rules will not only help in speedier land acquisition process but also in faster completion of the projects of public interest.
A number of projects have been delayed indefinitely because of ambiguities in the rules for land acquisition, particularly relating to payment of compensation to land losers. Besides, there have been cases in which groups or individuals approached the court to scuttle the land acquisition process, as a result of which projects had to be abandoned halfway causing huge losses. Had these rules been framed earlier, the government would have been able to easily enforce them and acquire land for major public purposes. While some had vested interest in not parting with the land for public purposes, others opposed it because the compensation paid to them was too meagre. Now that the government has proposed to pay adequate compensation and also to notify the rates, people should be ready to give up the land for public purpose for an adequate compensation for their rehabilitation. The draft rules will go a long way in clearing ambiguities that exist at the moment and make it easier to bring people on board when land acquisition has to be done for a major project. The compensation must be more than market price and paid in a time schedule and the government should pay interest if they do not pay according to the time schedule.