The parliamentary stand off over the Indian government’s effort to ease procedures to acquire land for “public purposes” continues, with the government deciding to re-promulgate the ordinance amending the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. Besides concern about the impact that this would have on the farming community and those dependent on it, another cause for the controversy is the apprehension that the relaxed procedures can be exploited by profit-seeking players interested in the diverting land acquired to uses other than the public purpose.
Evidence from the experience with the creation of Special Economic Zones, governed by a different law, suggests that the apprehension of the opposition is indeed warranted. Replying to a question in the Rajya Sabha on 18 March 2015, the Minister of State in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry revealed that across 20 states only 43 per cent of the land acquired (with or without the assistance of the state governments) for the purpose of creating SEZs had been utilised. The utilisation rate varied hugely from zero in the case of Goa, Jharkhand, Manipur and Nagaland to 96 per cent in the regions now constituting the state of Telangana and 81 per cent in West Bengal.