The Modi regime has introduced ordinance amending the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (LARR) barely one year in to its existence. So the debate is raging on the haste in which government has introduced the amendment and lot other things including the inclusion of private hospitals and private educational institutes under the definition of public purpose. Here in this article, I would like to analyse a less debated point of the LARR ordinance - the exemption of Social Impact Assessment (SIA) for the projects under national security, defense, rural infrastructure including rural electrification, industrial corridors and social infrastructure.
To understand the effect of doing away with SIA for the aforementioned type of projects, one must take a closer look at LARR .
LARR, 2013 was revolutionary
LARR did away with archaic Land Acquistion Act, 1894 which was framed at the time of British Raj. The LARR 2013 was not a bill that was introduced over night. Lot of consultations and deliberation has gone to making it a law. And the ordinance that this government has come up with have lacunae, is not much thought through and undoes the progressive elements that the original law introduced.
One of the most progressive element LARR, 2013 had was the provision for compensating for the loss of livelihood of people due to acquisition. This meant that under this law, the people who lost their livelihood - not just the land owners who lost land - owing to the acquisition, was also eligible for the compensation. This was really significant because livelihood loss while land acquisition is a reality that adversely affect the people from lower strata of society like fishermen, farmers and daily wage earners.
One of the aims of SIA was to analyse this livelihood loss and provide for the compensation of this loss. By doing away with the SIA, government must explain its intention. Is the government trying to do away with the compensation for livelihood loss so that corporate profits can be maximized? Or how is it going to assess the livelihood loss?
LARR sans SIA takes away the spirit
Apart from the assessment of loss of livelihood, the SIA covers the following :
- Assessment as to whether the proposed acquisition serves public purpose.
- Estimation of affected families and number of families among them likely to be displaced.
- Extent of lands, public and private, houses settlements and other common properties likely to be affected by proposed acquisition.
- Whether the extent of the land proposed for acquisition is the absolute bare minimum extent needed for the project.
- Whether land acquisition at an alternate place has been considered and found not feasible.
No sane person reading this would think the aforementioned points are not required while acquiring land. But this government does.
One of the arguments that government has come up with to defend this ordinance is that SIA leads to inordinate delay in project execution. If that is the case they would have added clauses in LARR to expedite the process of SIA instead of removing it. In the current LARR the SIA must be completed before six month after commencement. If the government was so concerned about the delay caused by the SIA, they would have cut short the time period with which the SIA is completed and would have put in place the necessary checks and balances to ensure the quality of SIA study.
Instead of doing all this, what the government has done is to throw the baby out with water. The government must clarify its intentions. People of this nation needs answer.