Land acquisition in India is governed by the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (LARR), passed during the UPA-2 government.
The BJP government that came into power in 2014 promulgated an ordinance to revise the law. Pending the passage of the amended bill, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had in July 2015 said state governments could pass their own land acquisition laws.
"One of the important consequences of the 2013 law... is the new paradigm that has emerged and goes back to Article 254 (1) of the Constitution, which says if there is a state law and central law about a concurrent subject, then the latter will over-ride the former.
"But in typical Indian fashion, we provided an escape route in Article 254 (2), which says if the state assembly passes a provision which is repugnant to the central law, then it can submit those to the President," Mr Ramesh, referred to as the architect of the 2013 law, said at the first South Asia Conclave organised by Oxford University Press.
He made the comments during a panel discussion on an upcoming book by Michael Levien, Assistant Professor, Johns Hopkins University. The book is titled "Dispossession without Development: Land Acquisition in Neoliberal India".
The work is based on 13 months of systematic ethnographic research on large trends, with field work on a special economic zone in Rajasthan.
"The architecture of the 2013 law has not been disturbed but several states such as Telangana, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu have already taken recourse to 254 (2)and have considerably weakened the consent and social impact assessment system provided by the 2013 law," Mr Ramesh said.
This could lead to a trend where states could have laws which accelerate land acquisition without necessarily ensuring full participation of the people from whom the land is being acquired, the former Union minister remarked.
The UPA-2 government passed the Land Acquisition Bill (The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013). However, in December 2014 an Ordinance was promulgated to amend the Act.
The Ordinance was re-promulgated in a modified form in April 2015, and again in May 2015. The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Second Amendment) Bill, 2015 was introduced in Lok Sabha on May 11, 2015 to replace the April Ordinance and was referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee for detailed examination.
The NDA Bill enabled the government to exempt five categories of projects from the requirements of social impact assessment, restrictions on acquisition of multi-cropped land and consent for private projects and public private partnerships (PPPs) projects.
Apart from the Congress, which wanted a return to the UPA's 2013 Act, parties like Left, SP, JDU, BSP, BJD were also opposed to the amendments.