The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (RFCTLARR), 2013 has addressed the long-standing asymmetries of power between acquiring bodies and affected people by injecting transparency and fairness in land acquisition through the provisions of market-linked cash compensation, social impact assessment, resettlement and rehabilitation.
However, the experience of the implementation of the Act has been chequered. Social impact assessment, which was widely lauded as a valuable mechanism for guaranteeing participation of affected-people in the land acquisition process, has been perceived as a cumbersome process by industry and some state governments. A few states have excluded a large category of projects from the ambit of SIA by enacting amendments after taking recourse to Article 254(2) of the Constitution. The capacity-deficit of SIA Units, SIA agencies, district officials and acquiring bodies remains a matter of concern. Then, the issue of livelihood generation of Project-Affected-People requires closer attention. Rehabilitation activities can make a meaningful contribution only when they become a distinct part of the project design with sufficient allocation of time and resources. Emphasis needs to be placed on the skill development of affected people. Financial literacy camps for the recipients of cash compensation can encourage investment of compensation amount in income-generating activities and productive assets.
The state of land record is an area requiring immediate attention because the outdated and poorly managed land records create disputes and complicate the land acquisition process. The updation of land records and their computerization as well as the adoption of conclusive titling' in place of the existing regime of 'presumptive titling' will significantly increase the ease of doing business in India. The perceived difficulty of acquiring land under The RFCTLARR Act, 2013 has created interest in alternate options of land procurement – direct purchase, pooling and leasing. Here again, land record management is critical. Of course, the success of the alternatives hinge on creating suitable policy and regulatory frameworks by enacting new laws and repealing or amending existing laws in states that often work at cross-purposes.
The provision of transferring cash compensation in the joint account of husband and wife and treating widows, divorcees, women deserted by their families and unmarried women above the age of eighteen years as a separate family for the purpose of entitlements is a progressive step in The RFCTLARR Act, 2013. However, women's right to property can be furthered by ensuring that the dwelling units or plots provided to displaced persons are in the joint names of husband and wife.
The frequent absence of formal title in the name of tribals with respect to land over which they may have enjoyed customary rights is a major source of conflict and calls for immediate solution. The substitution of the mandatory requirement of 'consent' by 'consultation' for acquisition of land in tribal areas by some states is at variance with the letter and spirit of the Central Act.
Then, it has become clear that the demand for 'Right of Way' over land in linear projects cannot be dealt within the ambit of The RFCTLARR Act, 2013, an amendment to the existing legislation is required. It will also be worthwhile to return the unutilized land that was acquired in the years prior to the new enactment or be offered for use to industry, prior to opting for new acquisition.
The Act has renewed the focus on the issue of availability of land which has led to calls for land use policies at the national and state level that can provide roadmaps for sustainable application of land in consonance with the needs of industry, interests of communities, requirement of food security and Sustainable Development Goals.
The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) organized a two-day national conference on the 'Five Year Journey of The RFCTLARR Act, 2013: The Way Forward' in New Delhi on 25th and 26th October 2018 to provide an opportunity to policy makers, government agencies, industry, jurists, practitioners, academicians, researchers and civil society to deliberate on the experience of implementation of the Act, and offer solutions to address the emergent challenges.
The discussions, spanning over two days, focussed on a gamut of land issues – prevalent land use pattern in the country, centrality of land in urbanization, industrialization and infrastructure development, implications of the paradigmatic shift in the land acquisition regime, legislative action of states in pursuance of Article 254(2) of the Constitution, land revenue administration and capacities of agencies tasked with implementation of the Act. The animated discussions were indicative of the inherently contentious nature of the topic of land expropriation. The experience-sharing by participants enriched the proceedings by providing useful insights.
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