Sep 21, 2013, 04.05 PM | Source: CNBC-TV18
Jairam Ramesh agrees that land acquisition for corporates is a legitimate, but also an overblown concern.
Earlier this month, the historic L and Acquisition Bill was approved by Rajya Sabha . The Bill seeks to provide fair and just compensation to farmers and to those who lose livelihood on account of their land being acquired.
Defending the new land acquisition bill, Jairam said that it (the bill) will reduce conflicts arising out of land acquisitions.
“I would be the first one to say that the financial cost of acquiring land will go up. But in the medium, long and even the short-term, I expect that social cost associated with acquisition in terms of conflict and hiatus between land owners and land buyers would considerably diminish,” he said in an exclusive interview with CNBC-TV18’s Shereen Bhan.
Ramesh blamed BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi for single-handedly scuttling the chances of a GST rollout. "I asked him when I went to Ahmedabad what is your objection to the GST? He could not articulate what his objection to GST was."
Below is the edited transcript of an exclusive interview with Jairam Ramesh
Q: As far as land acquisition bill is concerned everyone is now on board with the idea that this is good intension. It needed to be done because we were dealing with 120 year old bill. The problem that people have is going to mean in terms of the acquisition process. Industry believe that this is going to delay timelines even further 24 to 60 months or perhaps even longer. Is that not a legitimate concern?
A: It is a legitimate concern but it is an overblown concern. Strict timelines have been specified in the law for each activity in the process, the social impact assessment process and there are penalties for not fulfilling those timelines. I believe that if you go through this process, the social cost associated with land acquisition comes down considerably.
The point I wish to make is that even the current procedures, they may appear simple to you but they are not simple; they are non-transparent, they are completely opaque and what it does it leads to a lot of agitation on the part of farmers, land owners, landless and so on and so forth.
So what we have done and I am glad you said there is good intention what we have done is specified a timeline, we have specified the process and now are going to be issuing the rules in the next two-three weeks we will be issuing the rules, draft rules where we will get comments from all the stakeholders.
I can guarantee you the probability of conflict arising, if these processes are gone through is considerably diminished because what we are witnessing today in state after state is conflicts on land acquisition because the old act was draconian both in terms of its content and in terms of its procedure.
Q: Since you are talking about making the process easier, more transparent and the state governments will also be coming into play, so once you notify the rules, the state governments will also then use this as a base line and then perhaps improve upon it, in fact that is the hope of industry that state governments and federal populism is perhaps going to make the process at a state level more easy?
A: This is a misconception by the way. This central legislation establishes a minimum base line. States cannot derogate from this law. They can only add to this law. Let me also say that this law is for land acquisition, this is not for land purchase. If industry wants to go and buy the land, they are perfectly free to buy the land. The only clause in this law that we have added is for rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) which is a perfectly reasonable and sensible thing.
Q: But if it is a private transaction why did the government feel the need to come out and articulate what somebody should do on R&R?
A: Because this is a concern across the country that even in private purchases because of asymmetric power and asymmetric information between companies and the land owners, a lot of people get displaced, R&R doesn’t take place, commitments are not adhered to and for the first time we have given a legal commitment on R&R, but let me say that what that limit should be has been left entirely to the state governments.
So the state government is perfectly entitled to say that all private purchases less than 500 acres will not attract the R&R provision. That is entirely left to the state government.
The real point is that I am the greatest votary of faster industrialization and urbanization contrary to popular belief. Long before the virtues of foreign direct investment (FDI) and globalization were discovered in this country, right from the early 80s, I have been advocating it.
Q: I just want to get clarity as far as the retrospective clauses are concerned, why the need for a retrospective clause?
A: Let me explain to you the three conditions under which the retrospective clause kicks in. One, if under the old act the award has not been announced, not the activity, not the procedure, the compensation will be according to the new act.
Two, where the award has been announced but physical possession of the land has not been taken. And even if it is more than five years old, only compensation according to the new act. Third, where the acquisition is more than five years or older and where a majority of farmers have not accepted compensation, then compensation according to the new act will apply.
Remember what the political background of this legislation is. This country is littered with examples of land acquisition having taken place under extreme duress, Singur, Nandigram, I can go on but the fact of the matter is the retrospective clause was insisted upon by all political parties, by almost all stakeholders that we consulted, even some industry stakeholders we consulted were not totally averse to the retrospective clause provided the process was not tempered with.