Land consent clause diluted

Our Special Correspondent

New Delhi, Dec. 3: The group of ministers on the land acquisition bill has watered down the draft legislation by tweaking the consent clause related to acquisition for private industry and public-private partnership (PPP) projects.

The original Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation (LARR) Bill made it mandatory to secure the consent of 80 per cent of landowners and affected families ' those dependent on the land.

The draft cleared by the Sharad Pawar-headed panel has dropped the term "affected families", while making consent a must from 80 per cent of the owners and people occupying "government-assigned land" ' allotted under welfare schemes. The panel felt taking the consent of affected people would delay land acquisitions and projects, sources said.

The rural development ministry sent the revised bill to the cabinet today, the sources said. It is likely to be reintroduced in Parliament's ongoing winter session.

The panel led by agriculture minister Pawar cleared the bill last week but the legislation has been undergoing a series of changes after a parliamentary committee submitted its report disapproving government role in land acquisition for private firms and PPP projects.

But the rural development ministry and the GoM rejected the House committee's recommendations that the government should acquire land for its own projects, not those of private industry and PPP ventures.

The latest draft allows government role in acquisition for private industry but leaves it to the state concerned to take the final call. The extent of involvement could range from zero per cent or 100 per cent.

The original bill introduced in Parliament in September last year had provided for consent from 80 per cent of the landowners and affected people.

At one point, the ministerial panel was considering confining the consent to 66 per cent or 80 per cent of the owners.

However, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi intervened and suggested that at least 80 per cent of the owners and people occupying government-assigned land must agree to any acquisition. The panel eventually decided to stick to Sonia's suggestion after feedback from all its 12 members, sources said.

Examples of government-assigned land include plots for which titles were given under the Forest Rights Act to tribals living for three generations till 2005. The rights are heritable but do not allow land sale.