Mumbai: Union Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh Sunday allayed fears of Indian industry and said the new Land Acquisition Act would make projects economically viable.
Terming the new act "historic", Ramesh said it was "humane, its thrust is on rehabilitation and resettlement and in the national interest, as it promotes the welfare of tribals and marginal farmers".
In order to represent this spirit, the new act, to be notified early 2014, has been re-christened "Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement," Ramesh said.
Addressing apprehensions of the industry, Ramesh said the new act would apply only to land acquired by the central and state authorities for a public purpose, and there would be no bar on purchase of private land.
"The industry must look beyond land acquisition by the government and explore land purchase opportunities. In fact, in 20 years, there should only be land purchase and no land acquisition," Ramesh said.
Ramesh said that a bill seeking to amend the Registration Act, 1908, has been introduced in parliament. After it is passed, all land sales and registration records will come into the public domain. With increased transparency, it will be easier for corporates to purchase lands, he said.
Terming the old law "anti-democratic" as governments bought land from people at low prices and sold it to business houses at a premium, he said it created public anger nationwide and led to mass movements in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Odisha.
Under the new act, the collector's powers have been considerably curtailed, and the purpose of land acquisition has been clearly spelt out, with major emphasis on rehabilitation and resettlement.
"The consent of Gram Sabhas in Schedule V areas, mostly tribal-dominated, and consultation with the gram sabha in other areas has been made mandatory. If the government failed to utilise the land so acquired for public purpose within five years, it will be required to return it to its owners," Ramesh said.
On compensation, the minister said that farmers and others who lose their lands would be entitled to twice the rate of a three-year average of highest selling prices in urban areas and up to four times the average highest sale price in rural areas.
"There is also a provision of leasing the land instead of selling, thereby opting to receive a regular income over a longer period of time," Ramesh said.
Since it is under the concurrent list of the constitution, states could improve upon the compensation and other provisions in favour of the landowners and farmers, Ramesh said.
Due to be notified either January 1 or April 1, 2014, the act should be implemented by all states in the right spirit, he said
Reiterating that land acquisition should become an act of "last resort", Ramesh said his ministry has been working towards improving land records management and promoting transparency in land sales across India.
A Rs.10 billion (Rs.1,000 crore) National Land Record Modernisation Programme is being implemented with focus on computerisation of land records, digitisation of maps and surveys.
While Maharashtra has progressed well on this front, it has yet to catch up with states like Haryana, Gujarat, Karnataka and Tripura, he added.