Kill Bill: why not Let States Legislate Land Law
By Shankkar Aiyar | Published: 03rd May 2015 06:00 AM |
The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.–Sun Tzu, Art of War Politicians and political parties have long scoffed at the law of unintended consequences. History bears witness that there is no escaping it.
The Congress-led UPA invested two years and much political capital to divest its image of an exploitative regime —thanks to the plunder of land enabled by the scheme of SEZs. Plunder was followed by what many Congressmen dub as blunder—the Land Acquisition Act 2013, which grounded investment and didn’t deliver the expected vote harvest. The Modi Sarkar roared to power on the plank of growth. For nearly six months now, it has expended enormous political capital to legislate a “development friendly” version of the Act. In 2013, the Congress was labelled anti-growth. In 2015, the BJP—like it or not—is acquiring the tag of anti-farmer.
The big bang initiative of the Modi Sarkar is stranded. Sure, provisions have been amended yielding room to public opinion. But sticky factors persist —on the contours of what will constitute an industrial corridor and critically on consent which defines legitimacy in democracy. Distrust of governments is not new, neither are suspicions. Indeed, H W Bliss while debating the original 1894 law warned that the law should not be “used in furtherance of private speculations and that the local governments should not be subject to pressure… on behalf of enterprises in which the public have no direct interest”.
The crux of the problem lies in choosing to persist with the failed top-down model of governance. The expanding landscape of representative democracy demands that laws be legislated and implemented as close to the ground as possible to enrol mass acceptance and acquire moral legitimacy. The BJP in the 2014 polls campaigned for federalism. Yet, inexplicably, the Modi Sarkar has chosen to persist with the idea of centralised legislation—spawned by the Congress to suit its political business model—rather than live by its word and author the era of decentralisation.
To end the current impasse, the Modi Sarkar could heed Sun Tzu. It could kill the new Land Acquisition Act in Delhi and evangelise its passage in the state legislatures. The logic is simple. For all practical purposes, every square inch of India is ruled by the states. On the ground— no matter whether the law is passed in Delhi or Chennai—acquisition proceedings are processed by the collector who reports to the state government. The Constitution lists land—attendant rights in or over land, tenures, tenancy, rents, including “transfer and alienation of agricultural land”—in the ambit of the states in the Seventh Schedule. States yielded room to the Centre in the Nehruvian era resulting in the entry of “acquisition and requisition of property” in the concurrent list.
Public cause is better served if the Centre decentralises and yields room to the states to legislate land acquisition. There is a political case too. The BJP will be true to its chant of cooperative federalism. It is also politically feasible. Consider this: The BJP currently rules in 11 states across the country. The 11 states constitute a major chunk of the population and land area. The top leadership of the BJP is convinced that the 2013 Land Acquisition Act must be replaced with a new law. To prove its point, the Modi Sarkar must get the states ruled by the BJP to pass the template of the law—including critical provisions for defence—it has prepared at the Centre. It has a comfortable majority in most states. There is no need for scraping for support—as it has to in the Rajya Sabha—and numerically the Congress is emaciated in most state Assemblies.
To be truly pro-federalism, the Modi Sarkar must improvise provisions in the bill for states to choose a variety of models—like land pooling model of Andhra Pradesh. Allow states to retrieve unused SEZ land and give it to farmers or auction them—sharing proceeds with farmers who were divested. Make the Smart City policy smarter. India has over 75 million hectares of barren and fallow land—enable states to use the space to create smart cities that host economic zones. Allow communities enroute industrial corridors to opt out—they could be agrarian centres.
Democracy must be about choice. The dividends, if the BJP plans it and pulls it off, will be illustrative. The presence of BJP regimes across India’s industrialised states—Maharashtra, Haryana, Gujarat—and in states rich with mineral resources—Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Goa—affords the party an opportunity to create a template of development at the grassroots level. The 11 BJP-ruled states could become the ambassadors of change at a granular level and create a demonstration effect.
Democracy also needs to be a contest of ideas. The BJP can choose to squander its mandate in the trenches of unintended consequences or ride its rhetoric to achieve intended outcomes. firstname.lastname@example.org