Thursday, 18 June 2015

Land acquisition legislation VII:
Abrogating Provisions concerning Food Security

Provision to Safeguard Food Security in the Act of 2013
Land Acquisition Act of 2013 has a separate, though brief, chapter, Chapter III, entitled “Special Provision to Safeguard Food Security”. The single section, Section 10, of this chapter requires that no irrigated multi-cropped land shall be acquired except “under exceptional circumstances, as a demonstrable last resort”.

And, in such cases of unavoidable acquisition of irrigated multi-cropped land, the provision requires that “an equivalent area of culturable wasteland shall be developed for agricultural purposes” or “an amount equal to the value of the land shall be deposited with the appropriate Government for investment in agriculture for enhancing food security”.

The provision further requires that such unavoidable acquisition of irrigated multi-cropped land for all projects in a district or a State shall in aggregate not exceed such limits as may be notified by the appropriate Government; and further that the acquisition of the agricultural land (of any kind) in aggregate shall in no case exceed such limits of the total net sown area of a district or State as may be notified by the appropriate Government.

Finally, there is a proviso that exempts linear projects such as those relating to railways, highways, major district roads, irrigation canals, power lines and the like from the provisions of this section.

The provision carefully balances food-security with necessary development
The Chapter is obviously drafted with great care to balance the requirements of safeguarding food-security with the necessity of undertaking essential developmental projects. It requires that the Governments may not ordinarily acquire irrigated multi-cropped land; but it immediately gives them the authority to do so as a “demonstrable last resort”. It sagaciously requires that when any acquisition of irrigated multi-cropped land is done then an equivalent amount of wasteland may be developed as agricultural land; but at the same time it also allows that this requirement may be met by merely investing an amount equal to the value of the acquired land in enhancing food security. It requires the Governments to keep the total of such acquisitions of irrigated multi-cropped land in a district or a State within limits, but leaves the determination of such limits to the appropriate Governments, which they may do “considering the relevant State specific factors and circumstances”. It also requires the Governments to ensure that acquisition of all agricultural land in a district or a State does not exceed certain defined proportion of the net sown area, but again leaves the determination of such proportion to the relevant Governments. And it thoughtfully keeps linear projects out of the ambit of the provision concerning safeguarding of food-security.

It takes into account objections of the States raised before the Standing Committee
In the proceedings before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development chaired by Shrimati Sumitra Mahajan, some States, especially Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, raised issues about the practicability of this provision. In deference to their concerns, the Act left the determination of all limits to the relevant States. The version of the Bill (of 2011) considered by the Standing Committee had set stringent district-wise limits. It had required that aggregate acquisition of irrigated multi-cropped land would not exceed 5 percent of such land in a district; and, the aggregate acquisition of any kind of agricultural land in a district, where the net sown area was less than 50 percent of the geographical area, would not exceed 10 percent of the net sown area of the district. That version of the Bill also did not include the option of replacing the requirement of developing an equal amount of wasteland for agricultural purposes with the much simpler requirement of making an equivalent investment in enhancing food-security.

Thus the version of the provision, as it finally appears in the Act of 2013, should have met the concerns of the States. The provision effectively leaves the safeguarding of food-security to the discretion and good-sense of the concerned States.

The objection of Madhya Pradesh was however too sweeping
But no changes in this provision could have met the sweeppining objections of a State like Madhya Pradesh, which in its deposition before the Standing Committee said that:
“This entire chapter should be scrapped altogether. The idea of never acquiring irrigated multi crop land is obnoxious and impractical. The chapter is too inflexible to be part of any intelligent legislation. It does not esteem or defer to the exigencies of the times to come. …Enforcing it in the name of food security is something very far-fetched. Food security is less a challenge of production and more a challenge of access. An assured ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways is what the food security in India really means. …”

It is surprising that this sweeping objection came from Madhya Pradesh, which has done more than perhaps any other State of the country during the last decade or so for improving agriculture and irrigation. The State has registered the highest rate of growth in the country in agriculture, in the recent period. Production of food-grains and oilseeds in that State has increased several-fold in the last decade; this increasing production has led to substantial improvement in the food-security of the State and the country. Yet on behalf of the State that has shown the most spectacular increase in production, it has been said before the Standing Committee that “Food security is less a challenge of production and more a challenge of access.” The formulation has probably come from some over-enthusiastic bureaucrat; the political judgement of the State on the issue has been shown to be quite different in actual practice. This is not the place to argue about the validity or otherwise of this formulation, but it is an obvious fact that production and access both contribute to food-security; without an abundance of production, there is no way any State can ensure equitable and sufficient access to food for all.

The Standing Committee recommended strengthening of the provision
The Standing Committee, however, was not impressed by the arguments against the provision to safeguard food security. It wanted the provision to be made more exhaustive. It felt that the food-security of the country did not depend only on irrigated multi-cropped land, which produced mainly wheat and rice, but also on un-irrigated lands, which produced much of the other cereals, pulses and oilseeds. The Committee, therefore, recommended that “in Chapter III, all provisions regarding ‘irrigated multi-cropped land’ be replaced by ‘any land under agriculture cultivation’ so as to ensure safeguard for food security in a full measure.”

States did not oppose the provision in the Revenue Ministers Conference
Perhaps because the final Act has made the provision much milder than the version that was before the Standing Committee, not many States raised objections to this provision in the Conference of the State Revenue Ministers held at Delhi on June 27, 2014. The recommendations of this Conference seem to have formed the basis of the amending Ordinances and Bills. In the context of the food security provision of the Act of 2013, the summary of recommendations of this conference only states that: “The provision to safeguard food security (Section 10) by development of ‘culturable wasteland’ in lieu of acquisition of ‘multi-cropped irrigated land’ needs to be amended as States like Delhi, Goa, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand do not have any wasteland for the purpose.” But as we have seen, the Act of 2013 already provides such States the option of investing an equivalent amount in enhancing food-security in place of developing of equivalent extent of culturable wasteland.

The amendments abrogate the special provision to safeguard food security
The Act thus did not require any amendment in this Chapter, as for as the recommendations of the State Revenue Ministers Conference in this context are concerned. But the proposed amendments give the appropriate Governments the authority to entirely exempt the five specified categories of projects from the provisions of this Chapter. And since these five specified categories of projects exhaust all possible public purposes defined in the Act, Chapter III of the Act concerning Special Provision to Safeguard Food-Security in effect stands abrogated along with Chapter II that provides for Determination of Social Impact and Public Purpose.

The proviso for preparing a register of wasteland
The only provision the amendments make regarding safeguarding of food-security is to require that “The appropriate Government shall undertake a survey of its wasteland including arid land and maintain a record containing details of such land, in such manner as may be prescribed by the appropriate Government.”

This provision was added to the amending Bill as one of the several amendments that were proposed by the Government during its consideration in the Lok Sabha. But this provision is merely recommendatory; it does not alter or affect the process of acquisition in any manner and in no way insures that ordinarily good agricultural land shall not be acquired.

Let this proviso be a precursor to a Land Use Authority Act 
Yet this is a salutary provision, which may prove to be a precursor to the enactment of a comprehensive Land Use Authority at the national and State levels, with the mandate to keep a complete record of Land Use across the country. We today have the technology to prepare a comprehensive and detailed register for this purpose. The availability of such detailed land use records and maps shall make it possible to take decisions regarding changes in land use in any particular instance in a systematic and planned manner. Giving permissions for change of land use in an arbitrary manner is today a major source of corruption in the States and also heartburn among the peasantry. Their agricultural land are bought or acquired at a low price; after a change in the land use, the same lands acquire a much higher value, in which the original peasant owner gets no share. Establishment of a Land Use Authority shall make this process more systematic and equitable.

Our suggestions 
But let us return to the main provision for safeguarding of food security in Chapter III of the Act. To us it seems that of all the amendments proposed in the Act, the abrogation of this Chapter is the least defensible. Growing enough food to feed not only the people but also animals and even insects, and ensuring that the best agricultural lands are not diverted to other purposes, is important for any nation. It is particularly important for India, where production of food-grains per capita at less than 200 kg per year remains among the lowest in the world, and where large numbers depend directly on the produce of the land for their survival. Any diversion of agricultural land in such a country should be done with extreme care and discrimination. As we have seen, this is exactly what Chapter III of the Act requires; while leaving great latitude to the States in the manner in which they go about doing it depending on their specific circumstances and conditions.

The Prime Minister of India, in his radio talk to the farmers in the context of land acquisition and other problems faced by the farmers, has stated the policy regarding acquisition of agricultural land more or less in the very words found in Chapter III of the Act of 2013. Even in the absence of the provision of Chapter III, any reasonable Government would follow the caution and discretion mandated there. What is the harm in leaving this Chapter unchanged?

Therefore our recommendations in this context are:
1. Let us leave Chapter III in place; it is a carefully drafted provision which does not place any restrictions on the States, it only advises caution and restraint;
2. The new provision regarding survey of waste and arid lands may be expanded into a separate Land Use Authority Act, so that the changes in land use and acquisitions of land for different purposes in the future can be carried out in a systematic, planned and rational manner.

Tailpiece: Twenty years ago, we had written a book entitled Annam Bahu Kurvita: Recalling the Indian Discipline of producing and sharing food in plenty. A soft copy of the book is available here on our website We had asked several important practitioners and scholars of religion to write forewords for the book. At that time Tridandi Chinna Jeeyar Swami of Seethanagaram (Vijaywada) was a young man. At that age, two decades ago, he in his preface had emphasized, among other things, that to ensure the continued prevalence of the discipline of growing and sharing in plenty, we must stop diverting agricultural lands for other purposes. The provisions of Chapter III seem to derive from such timeless sage advice of the wise and pious personages of India. The issue of food-security in India is extremely important. Later sometime, we hope to run a new thread on this issue on this blog.
— Dr. J. K. Bajaj