Higher cost of land on outskirts of cities may hurt low-margin affordable housing projects. Still, there are those who believe acquisition must be made harder not just for the sake of farmers, but also for food security
The new Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, which was tabled in parliament today, will have little near-term impact, but if the proposed high compensation rates are implemented, it would result in developers having to shell out much more, according to Nomura Financial Advisory and Securities (India).
"Under the proposed set of rehabilitation and resettlement guidelines, the developers' cost of acquiring land greater than 100 acres is likely to increase by 25%-35% depending on current costs, in our estimates," the brokerage said in a report on the proposed legislation. While the cost will increase manifold for large-scale developers, it is a fact that right now not many are interested in acquiring more agricultural land.
Most big developers like DLF and Unitech are sitting on large tracts of land without making progress on projects, and they are even looking to sell land to cut debt. Some others, like HDIL, are more interested in acquiring land vacated by industries within the city limits.
Nomura said, "Large affordable housing projects can get impacted by this as a large amount of land is yet to be acquired on the outskirts of the city. Any increase in the land cost will further weigh on low-margin affordable housing projects. However, developers still interested in purchasing large-sized land parcels for township development, or SEZs, could possibly divide their land acquisition amongst various subsidiaries to stop breaching the 100 acre mark."
According to the Bill, the value of land would be determined either by the stamp value or average sale price for similar deals or similar tracts in the vicinity. In urban areas, the cost of acquisition will be at least twice the market value, whereas in rural areas, it will not be less than six times, although this could be revised downwards to four times.
Developers have expressed their displeasure over the proposed legislation, saying it is 'impractical' and 'anti-development.' In the past few years, many large projects have been delayed due to agitations and judicial action against acquisition of land or inadequate compensation.
The new Bill does not stop private developers from buying land directly from farmers at an agreed price, but in case the size of land acquired is more than 100 acres, the developer will be liable to provide rehabilitation and resettlement benefits.
The Bill has also been criticised by activists and citizens' forums.
"It is extremely unfortunate that a key legislation is being pushed in such a hurry and the Cabinet further dilutes some of the positive developments in the earlier draft," the National Alliance for People's Movement (NAPM) said. "It is ironic that when the mood in the country is against land acquisitions, the Cabinet has brought in the provision that if a private company is acquiring land over 100 acres for a public purpose, all land will be acquired by the government." The organisation has called on the ministry to hold a public consultation on the issue at the regional and central levels before adopting the Bill.
NAPM has also rejected the approach to the matter by market value of the land, saying that this is never fully worked out and that it does not automatically ensure attainment of alternative sources of livelihood, especially for adivasis and dalits. Instead, provisions should be made for alternative livelihood or mandatory employment for the project-affected people. It also says that the 'urgency clause' should be done away with and be limited only to natural calamities or for defence purposes only in the time of war.
Former finance and power secretary EAS Sarma, too, is against the acquisition of land by anyone for private corporations. Acquiring of agricultural land must be made difficult not only for the sake of farmers, but also for food security. In a letter to rural development minister Jairam Ramesh, Mr Sarma said, "The area limit beyond which the government will step in could be reduced to 20 acres. Also, this Bill will not address a host of other dimensions of people's displacement. Displacement occurs even in alienation of public lands to private parties and due to mining franchises."
Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi warns of the possibility of a backlog of RTI queries choking the system, as in the case of the courts
The citizens' response to the Right to Information Act is encouraging; but there is serious concern about a massive backlog choking the system. In this context, allowing inspection of files in the case of lengthy and voluminous queries could make things easier for both public information officers (PIOs) and citizens, central information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi has said.
"I have come across RTI queries that go up to 100 pages, with hundreds of questions," Mr Gandhi said. "I tell the PIOs to grant inspection of files in such cases. The applicant can check everything he wants to, there will be no backlog, and fewer chances of appeal." Mr Gandhi was addressing a seminar hosted by Moneylife Foundation in Mumbai on Saturday.
With more people taking up RTI, PIOs have to discharge more replies daily. In many cases, PIOs are lethargic in their replies, which are either delayed or dissatisfactory. Subsequently, appeals and counter-appeals pile up, and often matters are dragged to the courts. A huge backlog has built up and this may end up choking the RTI, just as it has happened with the country's judicial system, the central information commissioner warned.
His concern was echoed by VS Das, executive director, Reserve Bank of India, who also serves as the appellate authority for the institution. "We receive unreasonably long queries that tax the resources and time of a busy organisation. Still, we can say that out of the 18,000 applications we have received till date, only 16% have gone for appeals," Mr Das said.
Mr Gandhi said that in many instances where there are lengthy queries, the applicant usually has no objective as to how he will use the information. "During a hearing, I once met this man who wanted a massive amount of information about a government project, including details of the tender. I asked him what he will do with the information. He said that he wanted it, but was clueless about what he exactly wanted," Mr Gandhi narrated. "In such cases, I would say that if you don't have any objective in mind, drop the idea."
The central information commissioner cautioned against such use of the RTI, saying it should not become a tool for harassment. Inspection of files not only saves time, but will also save the applicant's money, because he can just copy the relevant information he needs.
"Also, authorities should voluntarily disclose information and put up files, documents, etc in the public domain. Everything has to be stored in digital format anyway, so why not upload them on the website while storing them on the computer," Mr Gandhi said.
Police release sketches of two persons suspected to have placed the briefcase containing the bomb at the High Court
A powerful bomb placed in a briefcase exploded outside the Delhi High Court this morning killing at least 12 people and injuring more than 60, many of them suffering serious burns. It's the second bomb attack in the national capital in four months after the explosion that happened only a few yards away on 25th May.
Most of the victims were people who had gathered outside gates number 4 and 5, waiting to get passes to enter the court premises, when the bomb went off at about 10.15am. Leaders, cutting across party lines, have condemned the incident, describing it as tragic and unfortunate.
The High Court, along with several benches of the Supreme Court, suspended proceedings for some hours, but resumed its functioning later in the day so as to send a strong message that it "will not be cowed down by such terror acts". If a litigant or lawyer failed to appear in any of the cases that came up today, the courts passed over these matters without giving any orders.
Denouncing the blast as a "cowardly act of terrorist nature", prime minister Manmohan Singh asked all political parties to unite and crush the scourge. Dr Singh who is in Dhaka on a two-day visit to Bangladesh, said, "I just heard the sad news from Delhi about the bomb blast. I am told that 10 people have been killed. This is a cowardly act of terrorist nature. We will deal with it. We will never succumb to the pressure of terrorism."
In a statement in the Lok Sabha on the blast, home minister P Chidambaram regretted that the "tragic incident" had taken place despite Delhi police being on a high alert and capacity being built up to strengthen the force in the past few years.
Informing members that the case will be handed over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), Mr Chidambaram said the government would not be intimidated by terrorist groups and that it was "determined to track down the perpetrators of this horrific crime and bring them to justice."
An email received by a TV channel this afternoon stated that the blast was carried out by Harkat-ul-Jehadi Islami (HuJI), said to be an affiliate of Al Qaeda, to demand the revocation of the death sentence of Afzal Guru, who has been condemned for the attack on the Indian Parliament. It threatened to carry out such attacks at the Supreme Court if the demand was not met.
Meanwhile, the Delhi police this evening released sketches of two persons suspected to have planted the bomb outside the Delhi High Court.
The sketches of the two-one believed to be in his 50s and the other in his mid-20s-were prepared following descriptions provided by eyewitnesses who claimed they saw someone with a briefcase standing in the queue.