By Rina Chandran
NEW DELHI, April 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - India's benchmark land acquisition law must be amended to make it easier to buy land for defence and development projects in the fast-growing economy, while also ensuring the rights of farmers, a senior government official said.
A joint parliamentary committee is studying proposed changes to the 2013 law, which include allowing buyers to acquire land without the consent of local communities, and removing the need to carry out an assessment of the social impact of their plans.
"The biggest issue we are facing is the pace of land acquisitions - on average, it takes 59 months to acquire land under this law," said Hukum Singh Meena, a joint secretary of the department of land resources.
"But you cannot wait five years for projects such as infrastructure and power - at least in these cases, acquisitions need to be expedited," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Conflicts related to land and resources are the main reason behind stalled industrial and development projects in India, affecting millions of people and jeopardising billions of dollars of investment, a recent study showed.
Enacted by the previous government, the 2013 law aimed to protect poor farmers by making their consent in land deals mandatory. It also introduced a social impact assessment, support for those displaced by projects and compensation of up to four times the market value of their homes.
But within a year of the law coming into force, a new government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi attempted to amend the legislation by removing the need for consent and a social impact assessment.
But the executive order failed to pass due to fierce opposition. Four states have since amended the law, with other states considering similar changes to speed up land deals. .
"States are amending the law because they want to expedite acquisitions. But if all the states want the same things, why not amend the central law?" Meena said.
A former minister who helped frame the landmark law, that replaced a colonial-era law, has said diluting the land acquisition law not only hurts farmers, but also risks more conflicts and legal challenges.
Meena said a compromise is essential to ensure growth and create jobs for India's 1.3 billion population.
"We do not want to take away the rights of farmers. We just want to expedite crucial projects," he said.
(Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)