Acquiring land with social impact assessment

Acquiring land is a continuous process in the pursuit to raise critical infrastructure and build developmental projects . Whereas land, by its very nature, is limited in size and with the increase in population , fast urbanisation and converting lush green villages into urban areas , there seems to be no end to its acquiring both by the Governments as well as by individual entities, business enterprises and estate houses , corporate bodies et-al. The entire exercise of getting land by the Government for developmental activities should have scope for compassion, consideration and cooperation from which stems transparent , benevolent and generous blended approach and that verily is sought now to be employed by the UT Government of Jammu and Kashmir as the process of land acquisition would not be done under the erstwhile rules of Jammu and Kashmir Land Acquisition Act governing such acquisition. However, all the proceedings for land acquisition for notified highways will be conducted under the National Highways Act of 1956 instead of J&K Land Acquisition Act.
In other words, with the extension and applicability of the relevant enactment of the legislation on the subject matter, viz the central Act of Parliament known as Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act of 2013 to the Union Territory, much difference was going to be felt on the ground in Jammu and Kashmir. A humane approach, consultations and cooperation, fair compensation, consent sans pressures and compulsions, participative basis and relevant social assessment measures shall now be the guiding principles of any acquisition of land from the public by the Government of Jammu and Kashmir. A moment to cheer up for the prospective vendors of land in as much as the critical issues connected with the acquisition namely consent, fair compensation, resettlement and rehabilitation stand vastly improved upon mostly to the satisfaction of the vendors. Government is to prepare Social Impact Management Plan which, besides catering to the emerging grievances, shall also take care of mitigating adverse impact due to displacement, disturbance and losing social connect developed at a particular places for decades . The notable plus points are involving Panchayats, Gram Sabhas, Municipalities or Municipal Corporations , use of local language in notifications at the stage of carrying out Social Impact Assessment Study.
Critically analysing, barriers in the path of development need to be eased which the Social Impact Assessment Study is broadly aiming at. Would the above measures, with more stress on consent, compensation and related factors, make land acquisition easy or difficult? Are not even under the relevant Act of 2013, number of litigations going on against the Government agencies which are entrusted with the land acquiring across the country? Who would decide acquisition of land to be ”a route of the last resort” as parting with land is associated with more emotive than commercial considerations? While land is a state subject, land acquisition is on the concurrent list, with that the central law is supreme but so far as consent is concerned, government projects are outside the purview of consent . It, on the other hand, is 70% and 80% mandatory for PPP projects and private projects respectively. In other words, 30 and 20 percent of vendors still are having no say about whether to part with the land or not.
Social Impact Assessment is still optional in urgent projects, irrigation concerned projects etc where environmental impact assessment is required. So far as rural areas are concerned, compensation up to the double market rates are payable while in urban areas , it is the current market value thereby rural vendors stand greatly benefitted. Rehabilitation and resettlement are mandatory in all cases which is a matter of great relief. However, irrigated multi crop growing land which can be called as growing ‘gold’ must be saved as far as possible keeping in view their utility, which by no compensation, can be substituted as they grow food. In other words, agricultural land needs to be vastly and meticulously protected which, in Jammu and Kashmir, has considerably shrunk owing to using its vast chunks across the UT for housing, commercial and other non agricultural uses and activities. We also expect that those people whose lands have been acquired in Jammu and Kashmir in the past but compensation not released in their favour so far or part payments only made thereof should get their compensation with full interest up to date , the concern on such cases, has already been expressed through these columns by us.