By Shuchita Goel. Reporting by Shivpriya Gurtoo.
On the 6th of May, 2015, our University hosted Mr. Jairam Ramesh, Member of Rajya Sabha, who began the lecture by introducing himself and his new book ‘Legislating for Justice’. He talked about all his terms as an MP and the three key pieces of legislation that he piloted through his career: the National Green Tribunal Act, The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (hereinafter the 2013 Act) and legislating the division of the former state of Andhra Pradesh.
He placed the 2013 Act in its proper historical context, referring to the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 and how the two were mutually exclusive on a principled divison. One difference was how eminent domain was interpreted in the 1894 Act, wherein the government could acquire any land, at any time, for any price and for any purpose. It was also purely about acquisition of land by the government and none of its allied aspects of rehabilitation and resettlement. The 2013 Act, on the other hand, put more emphasis on rehabilitating and resettling people, displaced as a consequence of their being evicted from the land that was once theirs but was now acquired through governmental processes.
He then proceeded to talk about the historical context in which the acquisition laws were placed. Somewhere in the 90s, the farmers and tillers of the land became wise to the inequities that were being imposed on them, especially land grabbing at below market rates under the garb of SEZs. India also did not have a cohesive legal framework in place for resettlement and rehabilitation, only government policies. As a result of this, massive rebellions were organised in Singur in West Bengal, Bhatta Parsaul in Uttar Pradesh and Kalinganagar in Odisha. These protests acquired a sharp political focus, so sharp, in fact, that a simple amendment to the 1894 Act wouldn’t have worked out. This led to the drafting of a new law in 2007, which was eventually passed in 2013.
He spoke of the four major pillars that form the foundation of the 2013 Act id est consent, social impact assessment, compensation and rehabilitation and resettlement; principles which he sought to explicate. The consent requirement is that of 70% of the farmers involved if the land is being acquired for a public purpose and 80% if private. He spoke of the inevitable social impact as a consequence of acquisition which necessitated an assessment, carried out by an impartial party, six months prior to the acquisition.
He then spoke of the third pillar in light of the aforementioned protests, as a result of which farmers were to get two times the market price of their land in urban areas and four times the price in rural areas. Finally, he advanced the claim that rehabilitation and resettlement were so intrinsically linked to the concept of land acquisition that one couldn’t possibly legislate upon the latter without taking into consideration its consequences and subsequent attributes of the former. Hence it was an issue that needed to be addressed through the Act itself, which is also something that manifests itself through the title.
Following this, he spoke of how all law is prospective but that some sections of this Act, in the interests of justice, are applied retrospectively; in particular, section 24 which talks about retrospective application regarding rehabilitation of displaced persons. In conclusion, he talked about the need for such a law and how its provisions are being immanently annihilated by the 2015 Amendment. His speech was followed by a round of questioning by the students on whether or not a holistic view of legislation should be sacrificed in the interests of political expediency, what one means by rehabilitation and resettlement- whether it is only a monetary handout or does it entail a complete societal and livelihood relocation etc. The questions were answered satisfactorily and with great levity. The session finally ended with a great cheer to Mr. Ramesh and the NLU Delhi PLPDG.