Parliament panel on land bill to discuss key clauses on Monda

Sunday, 9 August,New Delhi: With Government keen on buying peace over the land bill, a Parliamentary panel examining it will try to evolve consensus on Monday on three key provisions including the one on return of unutilised land to its owners after five years.

The panel has already arrived at a unanimous agreement on six key issues, including bringing back the consent clause and social impact assessment in the proposed law and now aims at finalising its view on three other issues at the August 10 meeting. It plans to submit the report the very next day, sources in the committee said. The government has also expressed readiness to accept the recommendations of the committee, which has restored some dropped provisions of the UPA law, but insisted it was not a climbdown as it was always open to changes on which there was a consensus.

The issues that will be on the table for the 30-member Joint Committee of Parliament headed by BJP MP S S Ahluwalia include the provision on returning unutilised land, time period for retrospective application for compensation under the new law and period of review. Under UPA’s land Act of 2013, the land acquired but not utilised for five years had to be returned to the original owners or the land bank. The NDA bill, however, provided for return of the unutilised land after either five years or any period specified at the time of setting up of a project, whichever was later.

The amendment to section 113, according to which the power with the state to remove difficulties which might arise in giving effect to the provisions of the Act can only be exercised after a period of five years from the commencement of the Act, as opposed to a shorter period of two years under the 2013 Act, will also be taken up on Monday. Similarly, the UPA law stated the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 will continue to apply where an award has already been made. However, if such an award was made five years or more before the enactment of The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Act, 2013 and physical possession of land had not been taken or compensation not been paid, the UPA law will apply.

The NDA bill prescribes that in calculating this time, any period during which the proceedings of acquisition were held up due to a stay order of a court, or a period specified in the award of a Tribunal for taking possession, or any period where possession has been taken but compensation is lying deposited in a court or any account, will not be counted. It basically amended Section 24 (2) to exclude time spent under litigation where a stay order has been passed. The issue of section 24 (2) was widely debated at the meeting of the panel on July 27. It is learnt that Secretary Land Resources Vandana Kumari Jena said in the meeting that states like Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Goa, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, and West Bengal, besides Chandigarh objected to section 24 (2) of the Act and wanted it modified.

Samajwadi Party-ruled Uttar Pradesh had termed the clause as “problematic” which needed to be “re-examined”. It said the clause was creating problems in cases where acquisition was done for defence purposes, Jena told the panel. The provision relating to the return of unutilised land was also discussed threadbare and Jena told the panel that a number of states including Delhi had objected to it. While Delhi raised objections, contending that construction of houses under DDA are not finished within a period of five years after making the master plan and sought exemption from the provision, some states said implementing a five-year cap on atomic power plants and irrigation projects is difficult.

The states also wanted clarity on the term “utilisation”, according to Jena. In the panel’s meeting on July 23, Secretary, Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP), Amitabh Kant had advocated convergence of both environmental impact assessment and social impact assessment. Kant, in his submissions, had also said there was no need to take one kilometre of land on both sides of the Industrial Corridors as proposed in the bill as there is no such thing as Industrial Contiguous Corridor. He had instead suggested that National Industrial and Manufacturing Zones already in the UPA Act should be continued.

The panel had on Monday approved changes in the Modi government’s land bill. The way for a climb-down by the government was paved when all 11 BJP members on the panel moved amendments seeking to bring back key provisions of the UPA’s land law, including the consent clause and social impact assessment, after dropping the changes brought in by the Modi dispensation in December last year and subsequently re-validated thrice through Ordinances.