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President Approves Andhra Pradesh Land Amendment Bill, Social Impact Assessment Struck Off for Certain ‘Development’ Projects

President Ramnath Kovind on Wednesday (May 30 2018) approved an amendment to the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 that was earlier passed in Andhra Pradesh Assembly. The changes will now allow the Andhra Pradesh government to acquire 6,000 to 8,000 acres in Amaravati, especially where land owners had refused to surrender their land under the land pooling scheme, the HansIndia reported.

‘We have received the communication from the Union government that the amendments were given consent to by the President. The Act will now be gazetted,’ Andhra Pradesh chief commissioner of land administration Anil Chandra Punetha told the Times of India.

The approved amendments, that will now be part of the Land Acquisition Amendment Act 2017, will allow the government to acquire land for projects related to ‘infrastructure.’ The Act will now make it easy for the government to acquire land and expedite the process itself. The amendments provide for the payment of 150 per cent of the price fixed by the government in case of acquisition of land below 100 acres, officials said. The move is intended to expedite the ongoing ‘irrigation projects’, ‘road works’ as well as the ‘industrial corridor works.’

Activists have raised concerns about this move, drawing attention to the communities that get affected by the acquisition of land by the government. Land Aquisition Act of 2013 was implemented by the Congress-led UPA government. This was to put an end to the forcible land acquisition and ensure transparency in the process. The said Act had served as a deterrent to many projects by the government and this was seen as a major hurdle to ‘development.’ However, the earlier Act is said to have protected the vulnerable of the society who are usually the first to be targeted in case of acquisition for ‘development.’

One of the major changes brought about in the revised Act is that it exempts certain projects termed ‘vital to national security, defence, irrigation and other projects’ from the requirement of Chapter – II of Act 30 of 2013. The said Chapter refers to the Preliminary Investigation for Determination of Social Impact and Public Purpose. This is an important process in the acquisition of land that asks the social impact of acquisition to be studied and asks the study to be published. It also asks to conduct a ‘Public hearing for Social Impact Assessment.’

The Social Impact Assessment is a major step that helps identify if Dalits or other economically or socially marginalised sections are getting affected in the process. Earlier, the Act had provision for Social Impact Assessment report by an Expert Group, which was to be prepared after examining the proposals for land acquisition. This has now been taken away for the projects mentioned.

The Act excludes the period spent on any proceedings of the court from computing the period specified in Section 24. The said section lays down the situations under which the land acquisition process would be deemed to have lapsed. If an award has been made five years or more prior to the commencement of the Act but the physical possession of the land has not been taken or the compensation has not been paid the said proceedings shall be deemed to have lapsed, according to this section. The amendment now exempts the court proceedings period from being added while calculating this time period.
Other changes in the Act also reek of government authority. It enables collectors to pass an award for acquiring land after taking consent of the interested person without making an enquiry. It allows the State to acquire land specified for projects by paying lump sum amount in lieu of rehabilitation and resettlement.

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