New Delhi (Press Release/ 24 Feb 15): Indian lawmakers should reject any amendments to the land acquisition law that do away with crucial human rights safeguards and could lead to forced evictions, Amnesty International India said today.
The government is planning to soon introduce in the lower house of Parliament the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill 2015. The Bill, if passed, will replace an executive ordinance that made changes to key provisions on consent and social impact assessment related to land acquisition in December 2014. “The land acquisition ordinance extended compensation and rehabilitation benefits to communities affected by certain kinds of development projects,” said Aruna Chandrasekhar, Business and Human Rights Researcher at Amnesty International India. “But it also dismantled safeguards that are central to the land acquisition law, undermining the rights of communities to participation and consultation.”
The land acquisition law, which came into force in January 2014, stated that the consent of 70 per cent of families is mandatory where land is sought to be acquired for public-private partnership projects, and 80 per cent for private projects. The executive ordinance removed these requirements for a range of projects, including those relating to defence and national security, rural infrastructure, affordable housing, industrial corridors and infrastructure.
The ordinance also exempted these projects from having to go through a social impact assessment – a study by independent experts to map a project’s impact on people’s lands and livelihoods, and its economic, social and cultural consequences, in consultation with affected communities.
“It is surprising that the government does not seem to want to learn about the social impact of a project before approving land acquisition for it,” said Aruna Chandrasekhar.
“Without a social impact assessment, rehabilitation and compensation measures are likely to be flawed and inadequate. Exempting projects from these assessments can in effect deprive communities of the opportunity to be consulted on decisions that have far-reaching social and economic impacts on them.”
“Parliamentarians must instead insist on a law that requires private and state-owned companies to carry out human rights due diligence.”
The land acquisition law initially did not apply to acquisition carried out for projects under 13 central Acts, including for coal mining by the state. The ordinance extended the law’s provisions on compensation, rehabilitation and resettlement to these Acts.
However, the requirements of consent and social impact assessment still do not apply to acquisition carried out under these 13 Acts. A provision requiring the consent of communities in ‘scheduled areas’ – Adivasi regions identified under the Constitution as deserving special protection – also does not apply.
“Under international law, the government has a duty to meaningfully consult with Adivasis, who are among India’s most vulnerable people, and seek their consent on projects that affect them,” said Aruna Chandrasekhar.
“The government must ensure that development projects do not end up jeopardizing human rights. Instead of rushing to amend a law that has barely been implemented, Parliament must address existing gaps, and consult affected communities and other stakeholders to ensure that development is both holistic and sustainable. ”
The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, in its original form, fell short of international standards on human rights impact assessment; free, prior and informed consent; consultation and rehabilitation. The Act came into force on 1 January 2014, replacing the Land Acquisition Act of 1894.
In recent months, the government has passed a series of executive orders which undermine communities’ rights, including: removing the requirement of public hearings with affected communities for coal mines of certain sizes seeking to expand their production; making certain categories of projects exempt from requiring environment clearances and consulting communities; and diluting requirements of gram sabha consent where certain forest land is sought to be used for industrial purposes.
International human rights law and standards, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the International Covenant on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples mandate the seeking of the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous communities in decisions that affect them.
According to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, companies should have in place a human rights due diligence process to identify, prevent and mitigate their impacts on human rights. States can impose a requirement for human rights due diligence where business operations pose a significant risk to human rights.