House panel for minimal govt role in land acquisition

Parliament's standing committee on rural development panel has recommended drastic changes to the proposed the land acquisition, rehabilitation and resettlement bill, saying in essence that the government should keep away from acquiring land for private industrial projects.

The revamped bill, which is to be tabled in Parliament today, proposes that land cannot be acquired by the state for any profit-making enterprise. These changes virtually reverse the government's plan to facilitate land acquisition for industry and townships with better compensation.

Under the revised bill, private players and public-private partnerships would have to buy land in the open market if their ventures involve any element of profit. It would be up to the companies to win the consent of the landowners.

The standing committee's blanket bar on acquisition for private or public-private enterprises bodies even if defined as serving a public purpose strikes down the clause which explicitly allowed the state to step in to help the private sector. The bill tabled in Parliament in September provides for private parties to seek government help to buy a part of land marked for acquisition.

The bid to leave the private sector to fend for itself at a time when landowners are up in arms against the sale of land to corporates sharply conflicts with the rural development ministry's vision of using the amendment to the 1894 bill to facilitate land acquisition. Rural development minister Jairam Ramesh had said earlier that there was need of land for industrialisation and urbanisation, and the bill provided for a fair compensation.

Besides the ban on acquisitions for private sector, the multi-party panel has asked the Centre to define 'public purpose' more tightly. It has opposed the considerable discretion given to the executive in the matter.