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Taking water to Telangana farmers (.hindu )

An improved land acquisition Act heralds speedier expansion of irrigation projects

Procuring land is an important precondition for implementing large infrastructure projects. Most irrigation projects require substantial tracts of land that could be justified on the basis of a proper cost-benefit analysis. By and large, one unit of land required for an irrigation project can serve around 20-25 times the area of the fields of farmers.

The overall land required for irrigation projects in Telangana is estimated to be about four lakh acres, to serve 100 lakh acres of farmland. Out of the total land required, Telangana had about 2.5 lakh acres, mostly done through consent award for irrigation projects in place at the time of enactment of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (RFCTLARR) Act 2013. Subsequently, several factors slowed down land acquisition in the State as well as the country.

Facets of the 2013 Act
Efforts to ensure payment of fair compensation, to introduce greater transparency in the acquisition process, and to integrate rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) culminated in the enactment of the 2013 Act. But good intentions notwithstanding, the Act is highly procedure-oriented.

Another major shortcoming is the absence of consent award that was there in the Land Acquisition Act of 1894. Consent award provides a win-win situation to both requisitioning party as well as landowners by preventing avoidable and prolonged litigation.

After the formation of Telangana, the State government has taken up an ambitious plan to provide irrigation facilities to one crore acres of farmland. According to Article 31(a) of the Constitution, the state can compulsorily acquire private property for “public purposes” by paying compensation at a rate not less than the “market value”. The State government came out with a market-based approach, a framework allowing landowners to willingly selling their land and properties for an agreed consideration.

Negotiated purchase and consent award allow free discussion and a resulting fair price. Both mechanisms prevent avoidable and prolonged litigation. Telangana added another 60,000 acres of land during the last three years for execution of irrigation projects, about 45,000 acres of this purchased directly from the landowners.

The Telangana amendment
An amendment to RFCTLARR Act was cleared by the State Legislature and after getting the presidential assent, the legislation has been notified on May 18, 2017. It seamlessly provides for land purchase, consent and normal awards for public projects. In addition to providing R&R benefits to land losers and other affected families as per the Act of 2013, it offers choices to project-affected families (PAF) to accept a lump sum package in lieu of R&R benefits, even as they retain their right to R&R benefits as per the principal Act.

The underlying philosophy of this robust legislation is that overall compensation for land purchase/acquisition and voluntary R&R should not be lesser than those provided under the Act of 2013.

However, provisions such as exemption from chapter II (Social Impact Assessment) and chapter III (food security), land purchase etc. compress the overall time frame for land acquisition & rehabilitation and resettlement.

In a single requisition, land could be procured for a department either through voluntary purchase, consent and normal awards, or a combination of all the said options. This perhaps, is the most unique feature of this enactment.

Although the government can dispense with the requirement of SIA in case of certain projects, a socio-economic survey is a must for identification of PAFs, determining overall quantum of compensation and their respective apportionment. Now all PAFs including those losing livelihood are entitled to R&R benefits.

The provision for voluntary purchase of land is expected to offer a better compensation to the land losers and should be available throughout the LA process till such time that the entire land has been procured for the project. The process could further be improvised by providing early bird incentives. To the naysayers, it has been upheld by several decisions of the High Court that executive power under Article 298 of the Constitution can be applied for the voluntary purchase of land by the state.

Only time will justify the efforts in this direction but for now, the first hurdle in bringing water to the parched lands of Telangana by way of expeditious land acquisition seems to have been crossed.


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