Friday, October 14, 2016

Land Acquisition Bill: Consensus eluded Centre, now four states relax their land laws

The Centre’s inability to build a political consensus for its land acquisition law in 2015 notwithstanding, four major states — Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha — have taken decisive steps to free up regulations relating to commercial use of land.

While Gujarat has already passed its own land acquisition law, which was accorded assent by the President in August, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha have expressed intent in making business easier through the adoption of the Centre’s model land-leasing law.

In August, the Gujarat assembly passed a Bill, allowing amendments to the Centre’s 2013 land acquisition Act, including relaxation of the clauses of social impact assessment and need for consent of landowners.

Uttar Pradesh, which had earlier banned land-leasing with exceptions granted to landowners among widows, minors, disabled people and defence personnel, made further amendments to the exception clause, effectively allowing agricultural land parcels to be leased to people involved with businesses.
Others such as Madhya Pradesh and Odisha have also evinced interest in amending their laws to allow land-leasing in their states, a senior official of the central government said.

After the government’s efforts to amend the land acquisition Act faced stiff political and social opposition last year, the Centre decided not to re-promulgate the ordinance for the fourth time in August 2015 to amend the legislation. Following this, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley advised states to frame their own Act with the Centre’s approval.

In an interview with The Indian Express, Niti Aayog vice chairman Arvind Panagariya said that adopting a model land leasing law was one of the important initiatives taken by the Centre that would reflect in the country’s growth numbers in time to come.

Panagariya, who has been a vocal proponent of land-leasing reforms, had earlier stated that “in the context of the difficulties in land acquisition under the 2013 land acquisition law”, states wanting to facilitate industrialisation could benefit from liberal leasing laws if they eased use of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes.

The view to have separate land laws across different states was reinforced after a meeting of the governing council of the Niti Aayog with state chief ministers in July 2015.

In June this year, the Niti Aayog also set up a special cell under the chairmanship of T Haque, former head of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, to build consensus with states on the Centre’s land-leasing policy.

“I think the way in which the government is now approaching policy should make investors more optimistic that reforms are now being pushed through such as closure of sick units, strategic disinvestment, MCI reforms. We are also trying to make a push with states to expand the best practices, such as land leasing law,” Panagariya said.

States that have moved 
GUJARAT: Passed own land acquisition law, got Presidential assent
UP: Exceptions widened to allow land-leasing to people in businesses
MP: Interested in changing its law to allow land-leasing
ODISHA: Ready to amend law to allow land-leasing

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