Gujarat Model: Land Grab in the Name of Land Acquisition

Written by Sabrang India Staff | Published on: April 20, 2016
shown its true colours. Dozens of Krishi melas (Farmer festivals) and the Krishi raths (Agriculture processions) notwithstanding, the LARR, Gujarat 2016 –pending Governor and the President of India’s approval -- with these amendments, becomes even more draconian than the LARR of 2014.
Soon after its electoral victory, the Modi government lost little time in showing its leanings. In 2014 itself, the central government at the centre tried to amend the LARR 2013 through an Ordinance. This was followed by a series of very vociferous and protracted protests by the Opposition, Farmers and their organisations, even civil society groups. Under the pressure from this overwhelmingly united protest the government at the centre caved in and was compelled to refrain from the proposed amendments.
What the Centre’s move however did then was to send out a signal. It did open a window of opportunity to vested interests; because the Centre left it to the discretion of individual states to amend the their land laws, if they so wished. Today, this is what the Gujarat Assembly has done. Rajasthan and Maharashtra also ruled by saffron today have also passed amendments and similarly voiced their inclinations to pass laws that make ‘land acquisition easier.’ 
Gujarat has been seeing simmering protests from farmers organisations and groups across the spectrum, protesting the rapacious policies of the state government. Conscious of this growing resentment with which the amendments in the Ordinance were viewed and the groundswell of opposition to it in Gujarat as well, the GoG has still, uncaring of this democratically expressed opposition, steam rolled its will and gone ahead and amended the very provisions that were opposed. Once again, the GoG has chosen to side with the few ‘crony capitalists’ against the vast majority of its own citizens. 
The amendments were cleverly introduced in the Assembly on a day when the opposition had been suspended from the House. There was therefore practically no discussion or debate on the proposed amendments in the Assembly. It is a mockery of democracy that such a crucial Bill is introduced on a day that the opposition is absent in the House, and the legislation passed without debate.
Finally, the amendments in the Bill are extremely regressive and remove nearly all the land in Gujarat from the ambit of consent, SIA (social audit), and R&R (Relief and Rehabilitation) requirements. In other words, it is no longer even an amendment; it now overturns, LARR 2013 in substance and spirit all together.
The new legislation passed in the Assembly empowers the authorities to exempt projects “vital to defence of national security of the country”, “infrastructure and electrification project or affordable housing for the poor” or “industrial corridors set up by the State or its undertakings” and “infrastructure projects under public-private partnership” from social impact assessment or consent clauses as incorporated in the central Act. It also allows the State or its undertakings to acquire land up to one kilometre on both sides of designated railway lines or highways in industrial corridor projects.

“Through this Bill, we are doing away with Social Impact Assessment clause, as it consumes lot of time. Further, it will not be necessary for the government to acquire consent of 80 per cent affected parties if we are acquiring land for social and defence sector,” said senior Minister Nitin Patel, who piloted the Bill in the Assembly.
In short, the State Bill has all the provisions that the NDA government had incorporated in the ordinance, promulgated by the Modi administration, to amend the UPA act.
‘Statement of Objects and Reasons’ Exposes the Intent of the Proposed Law
The ‘Statement of Objects and Reasons’ accompanying the Bill, provides a justification for the amendments:
The Central Government has enacted the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. Gujarat is an industrially progressive State and more and more investment is coming to the State. The State Government aims to provide all basic facilities and infrastructure to the entrepreneurs. However, it has been experienced that after coming into force of the said Act which has very stringent provisions for acquiring the land, land acquisition has become a very lengthy and difficult proposition. It is, therefore, considered necessary to make the procedural part of the land acquisition smooth and easy without interfering with the rights of the persons whatsoever whose lands are acquired. (emphasis added).
The primary justification for the amendments, it appears, is to safeguard “investment” and “provide all basic facilities and infrastructure to entrepreneurs”. Farmers and others dependent on land, who were the drivers of the changed law of 2013, do not even find a mention in the ‘Statement of Objects and Reasons’. So much for “farmer-friendly” governance and government!!
It also states that the “procedural part” of land acquisition is sought to be smooth(ened) “without interfering with the rights of the persons … whose lands are acquired”. This is a no-brainer. When the list of projects to be exempted from ‘consent’ and ‘Social Impact Assessment’ requirements is expanded, how can it not “interfere with the rights of the persons … whose lands are acquired”? This is merely paying lip-service to “rights of persons …” while actually carrying out actions that will negate that very objective.
Farmers and others dependent on land, who were the drivers of the changed law of 2013 (under UPA II at the Centre), do not even find a mention in the ‘Statement of Objects and Reasons’ (of the Gujarat 2016 Bill).

Further, the justification for the ‘amendments’ in the RFCTLARR (Gujarat Amendment) Bill, 2016 is that since the LARR 2013 “has very stringent provisions for acquiring the land, land acquisition has become a very lengthy and difficult proposition.” This, despite the fact that studies have shown that over 92 per cent of the in-pipeline projects were held up due to reasons other than land acquisition-related issues.
Ironically, LARR 2013 has never been implemented in Gujarat. On what basis was the statement that it makes land acquisition “lengthy and difficult” made? Even the work for minor and sub-minor canal network for the Narmada command areas was delayed, intentionally, despite the farmers willing to give land for it till the changes in favour of the corporate interests had been made. Without an honest attempt having been made to implement the 2013 Act, a deceptive conclusion has been reached that land acquisition has become “lengthy and difficult”.
The rationale of the 2013 law, brought in after a painful period of negotiation of all ‘stake holders’ was to bring in a degree of protection to farmers and land owners, those persons and communities dependant on fertile and arable lands; this was the primary reason for bringing in the consent and social audit clauses and making the law ‘stringent’. It was meant to discourage land acquisition at the scale at which it was happening under the old law.
The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the 2016 Gujarat Bill does admit that the proposed amendments “exempt certain projects from the application of the provisions of the Chapter II of the Act which relates to determination of social impact and public purpose as also from the provisions of Chapter III of the Act which relates to special provision to safeguard food security”. However, it is silent on the fact that along with these exemptions, projects are also exempt from consent and R&R (Relief and Rehabilitation) provisions. A Comparative Table of the 2016 Gujarat Bill, the 2014 Modi Government ordinance and the 2013 LARR can be read here.
Clearly, the moves of the Modi government to ignore India’s peasantry and decaying agrarian sector and push, an unhealthy culture of land grab that can benefit the rich few have simply changed track, not been abandoned. This poses a fresh and new challenge to the political opposition and people’s movements all over the country.