Raise LARR compensation, SIA only for big projects
Should there be a war, under the urgency provision of the Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Act, finance and defence minister Arun Jaitley said at the Express Group’s Adda, land could be acquired for defence forces. So, were an airstrip to be constructed, the land could be acquired quickly during a war using the ‘urgency’ clause, but if this was to be done during peace time—when it actually makes sense to construct the airstrip—acquiring the land could take a minimum of 5 years. Which is why Jaitley spoke of the need to develop a Plan B, perhaps carve out a lot more exemptions for areas like defence, low-cost housing and the like. Jaitley said he was in favour of hiking the compensation for land acquired under LARR, but restricting the mandatory social impact assessment (SIA) as compared to the situation that prevails today. This, in fact, is precisely what the Rajasthan government has proposed in its land law. As compared to a 4X price proposed in rural Maharashtra—where X is the value at which the last land transaction took place in the area/neighbouring area—Rajasthan has proposed a value going up to 9X for certain types of land, along with no mandatory SIA. The Act, once passed by Rajasthan assembly, will put the use of Article 254(2) of the Constitution to a new test—if the President signs on to Rajasthan’s Act, this opens up a new window for states to come up with more reasonable versions of LARR; presumably, this means the government is getting some legal opinions on this.
To be fair, Jaitley was talking of a Plan B only in the context of the Congress and other Opposition parties not going along with a larger restructuring of the Act. Indeed, though the BJP erred—due to competitive politics, it could not be seen opposing a Bill projected as pro-farmer—in supporting LARR, one of the first jobs prime minister Modi tasked rural development minsiter Nitin Gadkari with was to talk to states to see what changes were required. The idea was, in all probability, to create a constituency of non-Congress regional parties who might agree to the changes the government was proposing.
Most states, including Congress-ruled ones, had some serious objections to LARR in its current form—Karnataka and Kerala wanted SIAs to be done for only large projects, Tamil Nadu wanted ‘public purpose’ to be defined by the state and Uttar Pradesh wanted the definition of ‘affected parties’ who need to be covered by the extensive R&R to be whittled down. In which case, the government needs to be looking at creating a broad coalition of regional parties to change LARR, not to settle for a Plan B.