Cabinet clears land bill despite protests

New Delhi:  For the first time since 1894, a new land acquisition was today approved by the Union Cabinet. The much-awaited Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation Bill provides for enhanced compensation to land owners.

The bill will be introduced in Parliament on Wednesday, said Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh after a 90-minute-long Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

After being introduced in Parliament, the bill is expected to go the standing committee where it will be examined by members from various political parties.

The bill, campaigned for strongly by Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi, met with strong objections from NCP chief Sharad Pawar, say sources. They add that the reservations were also backed by former chief ministers in the Union Cabinet including Veerappa Moily and Vilasrao Deshmukh. One of the main concerns is that land prices across the country could shoot up due to the bill.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said the expertise of the former chief ministers in the Cabinet should be taken into account. He also said there should be an informal group to take into account the views led by Sharad Pawar, who had a detailed note of various points of objection on the draft bill.

Saying that the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 has stood the test of time, former Law Minister Veerappa Moily questioned why the new bill is being brought in the present circumstances.

The land acquisition bill, put up for public discussion last month, is an attempt to change an outdated law passed more than a century ago. It will also be the first central legislation on resettlement and rehabilitation of families necessitated by land acquisition.

The bill proposes that the compensation to the farmer will be four times the market rate. It also proposes that if a private company is acquiring land over 100 acres for a public purpose, all the land will be acquired by the government. Also, if the land acquired is not used for the stated purpose, it will not be returned to the original owner, but go to the state land authority.

All linear projects like railways, canals and power lines will not be covered under the bill.

(With agency inputs)

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