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Govt issues statutory order on Land Bill

The government has issued a statutory order on Land Bill in lieu of re-promulgation of land ordinance. The current land ordinance will lapse on August 31, 2015.

CNBC-TV18 had first reported on possibility of statutory order on Wednesday.

Sources say the order will ensure compensation for land acquired under 13 Acts and will safeguard the rehabilitation of land owners. The 13 Acts include 13 Coal Bearing Areas Acquisition & Development Act, 1957,  and National Highways Act, 1956 and Land Acquisition (Mines) Act, 1885.

The government also plans to extend benefits of compensation, rehabilitation, resettlement to 2013 Act.

The government has, however, left eight amendments included in the land ordinance. The government had brought in nine changes to the land law through ordinances. The one amendment that will be retained is the compensation for land acquired under the 13 Acts, such as the SEZ Act, the Coal Mining Act, which will now be under the 2013 Land Law.

Sources also add that the order follows the opinion of the Attorney General, and the fact that the government cannot re-promulgate the ordinance as the Parliament session has not been prorogued.

According to the sources, Prime Minister Narendra Modi approves the statutory order in lieu of land ordinance.

A Gazette notification on the statutory order is expected soon, add sources.

The Attorney General of India Mukul Rohatgi told CNBC-TV18 that the benefit of higher compensation will be extended to all land owners and that the government does not want poor farmers to suffer.

Congress leader Manish Tewari, senior advocate KTS Tulsi and Feedback Infra’s Vinayak Chatterjee too gave their views on the matter.

Below is the verbatim transcript of KTS Tulsi, Manish Tewari & Vinayak Chatterjee’s interview with CNBC-TV18’s Shereen Bhan

Q: What do you make of the government’s decision to issue a statutory order to take forward what the Land Ordinance has left behind?

Tulsi: The statutory order can only be valid so long as the statute is imposed. If the statue lapses, the statutory order will lapse automatically. I cannot understand the use of issuing a statutory order without promulgating the Ordinance. It is not a substitute. So, it is an anomalous situation that will result and the statutory order will not be able to save anything.

Q: We are also trying to grapple with this and understand this because the Land Ordinance had moved nine changes to the 2013 Act. If I look at what the statutory order now says, the statutory order is basically talking about only one change which is to bring the 13 central acts under the 2013 land law for resettlement and compensation. So, it looks like the government has dropped the other eight changes that were being proposed and since this business of the 13 central acts was already part of the 2013 statute, that has now been taken forward as part of the statutory order. What do you make of that?

Tulsi: The statutory order will be valid on so long as the Ordinance comes into force. It cannot be substituted for the Ordinance. There are only two sources of law so far as the constitution is concerned. The law enacted by the Parliament and given assent to by the president. And the other is when the houses are not in session, an Ordinance to tide over some urgent necessity. Now, if there is no ordinance and there is no statute, there cannot be any statutory order.

Q: One would imagine that the route that the government has taken which is not to re-promulgate the land ordinance because they would have had to prorogue the session but they have taken the statutory route and that would suggest that there is still a window of hope and opportunity for a special session being called or Parliament being reconvened to try and push the GST Bill through. What do you make of this development?

Tewari: I think those two strands are completely unconnected. The Land Acquisition Act stands on its own merits. The various Ordinances or the Ordinance which was promulgated and re-promulgated was an aberration to a process which had been sanctified by both houses of Parliament with very enthusiastic participation by the BJP at that point in time. So, one would wonder as to under what pressure or what compulsion was this ordinance route adopted by the central government.

Q: I am trying to understand why the government would choose to issue a statutory order on the Land Bill which takes forward the 2013 Land Law, which obviously seems to suggest that there is a window of opportunity to try and broker some sort of an arrangement with the Congress party, reconvene the monsoon session of Parliament and push the GST Bill through?

Tewari: That sounds more like a wishful thinking than a political strategy.

Q: How else would you explain this?

Tewari: Essentially what you are trying to do is confuse apples for pears. GST has its own issues. There are still design issues, there are still issues with regard to what would be the optimal level of taxation, the grievance redressal council etc, stuff which needs to be sorted out by the government in consultation with the Opposition. The Land Acquisition Act or the ordinances was a complete aberration. Ultimately because there was so much of resistance the government had to go back on it and eat a humble pie. Even this executive order which has been promulgated which you were trying to sort of read out, I am afraid if possibly the land which has been acquired under different notifications or under different Acts which were a part of the ordinance and if this executive order intends to save that acquisition, I am afraid that is not going to happen for the simple reason that once an ordinance lapses, anything which is done in pursuance of that ordinance also automatically goes.

So, therefore, the government has actually tied itself up in knots. So far as the GST is concerned that would really have to be dealt on its own merits. The fundamental issues with regards as to why the previous session of Parliament could not function will have to be resolved by the government.

Q: Is this now a case of the government now tying itself up in even ore knots and complicating the matter even further because what we see from the statutory order that has been notified by the government seems to suggest that the 13 central acts have been brought under the 2013 land law as far as compensation is concerned. How would you react to the developments of the day?

Chatterjee: Very positively because this was bound to happen. When the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) passed the 2013 Act, it left out 13 specifics acts. Like the Railways has its own acts, National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) has its own act. It left out 13 specific acts that had their own method of acquiring land from the purview of the 2013 UPA Land Act. Now, that was an anomalous situation because as a seller of land, if I am a villager, I cannot get compensation ‘x’ if it is acquired for a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and I cannot get compensation ‘y’ if it is acquired for NHAI. So, it was an anomalous situation which should not have been allowed to exist and there was a sunset clause. We are now close to the sunset clause which is August 31 and the government has done the only sensible thing possible by saying that irrespective of the purpose for which land is acquired, the same compensation will be paid as notified under the Land Act. It is inevitable, it is logical and it is only sensible that it is being done which should have been done in the first place anyway in the 2013 Act.

Q: But is there concern now that some of the other changes that were proposed and there were nine changes that the ordinance brought in, only one is being kept alive which is bringing the 13 central acts into the 2013 act. But the other changes that the ordinance had brought in virtually will lapse come August 31.

Chatterjee: Actually, the concern is not as acute for the simple reason that a careful reading of the 2013 Act reveals that government itself can acquire for government purposes large tracks of land, like for industrial corridors and for industrial parks etc., which can accommodate the normal demands of industries to set up factories and institutions, etc. However, the large industrial projects or infrastructure projects or steel or fertilizer which require 500-1,000 acres will now have to necessarily go through Secretariat of Industrial Assistance (SIA) and consent clauses. The expectation is that since much of the responsibility is seen to be passed on to the states, I think the expectation is that competitive federalism will take care of many of the clauses not being as onerous as they have been thought to be.

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