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The Draft Land Titling Bill, 2011

June 23rd, 2011 1 comment

The Department of Land Resources in the Ministry of Rural Development has released a draft version of The Land Titling Bill, 2011 on its website. This draft is a major revision of the original draft Bill released in 2010. Public comments on this draft are invited before June 24, 2011. A copy of the draft can be found here.

The Bill provides for the registration of all immovable property to establish a system of conclusive, electronically recorded titles. It also provides for a mechanism to invite objections and for the resolution of disputes through special tribunals. The property record will be considered as conclusive ownership by the person mentioned. This will help resolve uncertainties in property transactions.

Given that land is a state subject, the Bill is meant to be a model law for adoption by the states individually.  The framework of the bill is explained below.

I. Land Titling Authority and Preparation of Records

The Bill establishes a Land Titling Authority at the State level. The Authority’s task is to prepare a record of all immovable properties in its jurisdiction.

These records will contain (a) survey data of boundaries of each property; (b) a unique identification number for each property, which may be linked to a UID number; (c) any record created by an officer of the state or UT government authorised by the laws of that state to make such records; and (d) a record of Title over each property.

II. Title Registration Officer and Registration Process

The Bill provides for the government to create Title Registration Offices at various places, and for a Title Registration Officer (TRO) to function under the supervision of the Land Titling Authority.  The TRO will have powers of a civil court and is charged with the task of creating e a Register of Titles.

Steps for the registering of titles include: (a) notification of available land records data by the TRO, (b) invitation to persons with interest in such properties to make objections to the data, and (c) registration of properties by the TRO for which no dispute is brought to his notice in writing. In the case the absoluteness of the title to a property is disputed, the TRO will make an entry into the Register of Titles to that effect and refer the case to the District Land Titling Tribunal (discussed below)

III. District Land Titling Tribunal and State Land Titling Appellate Tribunal

The Bill proposes to set up a District Land Titling Tribunal, consisting of one or more serving officers not below the rank of Joint Collector / Sub Divisional Magistrate of the District. The government may also establish one or more State Land Titling Appellate Tribunals, to be presided over by serving Judicial Officers in the rank of District Judge. Revisions to the orders of the State Land Titling Appellate Tribunal may be made by a Special Bench of the High Court.

The Bill bars civil courts from having jurisdiction to entertain proceedings in respect to matters that the TRO, District Land Titling Tribunal, and State Land Titling Appellate Tribunal are empowered to determine.

IV. Completion of Records and Notification

When preparation of the Record for whole or part of a specific are is complete, it will be notified. Any person aggrieved by the notified entry in the Register of Titles may file an objection before the District Land Titling Tribunal within three years of the notification. Additionally, the person may file an application with the TRO for an entry to be made in the Register of Titles. The TRO shall do so when the application has been admitted to the Tribunal.

Minor errors in the Title of Registers can be rectified through an application to the TRO.

V. Register of Titles

After completion of records is notified by the Authority, the Register of Titles is prepared and maintained by the Authority. For each property, the Register will include: (a) general description, map, and locational details of the immovable property; (b) descriptive data such as a unique identification number, plot number, total area, built up and vacant area, address, site area, and undivided share in the land; (c) detail of survey entry, provisional title record, conclusive title record and status, mortgage, charges, other rights and interests in the property; (d) details of transfer of the property and past transactions; and (e) disputes pertaining to the property.

Entries in the Register of Titles will serve as conclusive evidence of ownership. These entries shall be maintained in electronic form, indemnified, and kept in the public domain.

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NATGRID: Should Parliament have a role?

June 20th, 2011 1 comment

The Union government’s Cabinet Committee on Security recently gave clearance to the Home Ministry’s NATGRID project.  The project aims to allow investigation and law enforcement agencies to access real-time information from data stored with agencies such as the Income Tax Department, banks, insurance companies, Indian Railways, credit card transactions, and more.  NATGRID, like a number of other government initiatives (UIDAI), is being established through governmental notifications rather than legislation passed in Parliament.  The examination of this issue requires an assessment of the benefits of legislation vis-a-vis government notifications.

Government notifications can be issued either under a specific law, or independent of a parent law, provided that the department issuing such notification has the power to do so.  Rules, regulations which are notified have the advantage of flexibility since they can be changed without seeking Parliamentary approval.

This advantage of initiating projects or establishing institutions through government notifications is also potentially of detriment to the system of checks and balances that a democracy rests on.  For, while legislation takes a longer time to be enacted (it is discussed, modified and debated in Parliament before being put to vote), this also enables elected representatives to oversee various dimensions of such projects.  In the case of NATGRID, the process would provide Parliamentarians the opportunity to debate the conditions under which private individual information can be accessed, what information may be accessed, and for what purpose.  This time consuming process is in fact of valuable import to projects such as NATGRID which have a potential impact on fundamental rights.

Finally, because changing a law is itself a rigorous process, the conditions imposed on the access to personal information attain a degree of finality and cannot be ignored or deviated from.  Government rules and regulations on the other hand, can be changed by the concerned department as and when it deems necessary.  Though even governmental action can be challenged if it infringes fundamental rights, well-defined limits within laws passed by Parliament can help provide a comprehensive set of rules which would prevent their infringement in the first place.

The Parliamentary deliberative process in framing a law is thus even more important than the law itself.  This is especially so in cases of government initiatives affecting justiciable rights.  This deliberative process, or the potential scrutiny of government drafted legislation on the floor of Parliament ensures that limitations on government discretion are clearly laid down, and remedies to unauthorised acts are set in stone.  This also ensures that the authority seeking to implement the project is

The other issue pertains to the legal validity of the project itself.  Presently, certain departmental agencies maintain databases of personal information which helps them provide essential services, or maintain law and order.  The authority to maintain such databases flows from the laws which define their functions and obligations.  So the power of maintaining legal databases is implicit because of the nature of functions these agencies perform.  However, there is no implicit or explicit authorization to the convergence of these independent databases.

One may argue that the government is not legally prevented from interlinking databases.  However, the absence of a legal challenge to the creation of NATGRID does not take away from the importance of establishing such a body through constitutionally established deliberative processes.  Therefore, the question to be asked is not whether NATGRID is legally or constitutionally valid, but whether it is important for Parliament to oversee the establishment of NATGRID.

In October 2010, the Ministry of Personnel circulated an “Approach paper for a legislation on privacy”.  The paper states: “Data protection can only be ensured under a formal legal system that prescribes the rights of the individuals and the remedies available against the organization that breaches these rights. It is imperative, if the aim is to create a regime where data is protected in this country, that a clear legislation is drafted that spells out the nature of the rights available to individuals and the consequences that an organization will suffer if it breaches these rights.”

As the lines above exemplify, it is important for a robust democracy to codify rights and remedies when such rights may be potentially affected.  The European Union and the USA, along with a host of other countries have comprehensive privacy laws, which also lay down conditions for access to databases, and the limitations of such use.  The UIDAI was established as an executive authority, and still functions without statutory mandate.  However, a Bill seeking to establish the body statutorily has been introduced, and its contents are being debated in the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance and the Bill has also been deliberated on by civil society at large.

A similar approach is imperative in the case of NATGRID to uphold the sovereign electorate’s right to oversee institutions that may affect it in the future.

 

Standing Committee’s recommendations on the Whistleblower’s Bill

June 17th, 2011 1 comment

The government is considering a number of measures to tackle corruption such as the formation of the office of the Lokpal or Ombudsman to investigate corruption cases, the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010 that requires judges to declare their assets, lays down enforceable standards of conduct for judges, and establishes a process for removal of the Supreme Court and High Court judges (see PRS Analysis) and the Public Interest Disclosure and Protection of Persons Making the Disclosure Bill, 2010.

In 2004, following the death of whistleblower Satyendra Dubey, the government issued a notification laying down certain guidelines for whistleblowing and protecting whistleblowers.  It introduced the Public Interest Disclosure and Protection of Persons Making the Disclosure Bill, 2010 in August 2010 to give statutory backing to the 2004 government resolution.  Commonly known as the Whistleblower’s Bill, it seeks to protect whistleblowers i.e. persons making a public interest disclosure related to an act of corruption, misuse of power or criminal offence by a public servant.  It designates the Central and State Vigilance Commissions to receive disclosures from whistleblowers and lays down safeguards for protection of whistleblowers (see PRS Analysis).

The Bill was referred to the Departmentally related Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice.  The Committee presented its report on June 9, 2011.

Key recommendations of the Standing Committee

  • § The Bill seeks to establish a mechanism to register complaints on any allegation of corruption or wilful misuse of power by a public servant.  The Committee broadly agreed with the provisions of the Bill but hoped that the government would consider the recommendations and adopt them wherever found appropriate.
  • § The Bill covers any complaint under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988; wilful misuse of power, and a criminal offence by a public servant.  The Committee suggested that the scope of the Bill may be widened to include offences such as maladministration and human rights violations.  Specifically, the Bill should cover accrual of wrongful gain to a third party.  Also, the definition of “public servant” in the Indian Penal Code and the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 could be adopted for this Bill.
  • § The Committee proposed that the defence forces and intelligence organisations should be included within the ambit of the Bill.  There could be reasonable exceptions based on operational needs of the forces.  Alternately, a separate authority could be set up for these exempted agencies.  It added that the Bill should cover members of the Council of Ministers, the judiciary (including higher judiciary) and regulatory authorities.
  • § The Bill states that a public interest disclosure can be made only to the Central or State Vigilance Commissions (VCs).  The Committee is of the opinion that this may restrict access especially to population in remote areas.  It recommended that the Rules should provide for a smooth and convenient system.  The Committee added that if there are multiple points at which complaints can be made, the identity of the complainant should be strictly protected.
  • § The Bill does not allow anonymous complaints.  The Committee however suggested that if the anonymous complaints have supporting documents that substantiates the claims, the VCs can investigate it.  It also advised that an alternative mechanism could be set up within or outside the Bill for inquiring into anonymous complaints.
  • § The Committee recommended that there should be a foolproof mechanism to ensure that the identity of the complainant is not compromised with at any cost.  This is especially important because without such a mechanism it would deter prospective complainants due to fear of harassment and victimisation.
  • § The Bill allows the VCs to reveal the identity of the complainant to the head of the organisation if it is necessary to do so.  The Committee recommended that the identity of the complainant should not be revealed to the head of the organisation without the written consent of the complainant.
  • § The Committee felt that undue burden should not be placed on the complainant to provide proof to substantiate his case.  As long as he is able to make out a prima facie case, the VCs should follow up on the case.
  • § The Committee is of the view that the VCs should inform the complainant about the outcome of the complaint.  Also, the VCs should give reasons if it decides to dismiss a complaint and the complainant should be given a reasonable hearing if he is not satisfied with the dismissal.
  • § The Committee proposed that there should be a time limit for conducting discreet inquiry by the VCs, for inquiry by the head of the organisation and for taking action on the recommendations of the VCs.  The authority would have to give reasons in writing if it wants the time limit to be extended.  There should also be some mechanism to ensure that the directions of the VC are not avoided to protect the wrongdoer.
  • § The Bill states that the VCs shall not entertain any complaints made five years after the action.  However, the Committee is not convinced that this restriction should be prescribed.  If at all there has to be a time limit, exceptions should be made in case of complaints which prima facie reveal offences of a grave nature.
  • § The Committee recommended that the term “victimisation” should be defined and the whistleblower should be provided with sufficient protection to protect him from violence.  Also, witnesses and other persons who support the whistleblower should be accorded the same protection.
  • § The Committee strongly recommended that there should be a mechanism to ensure that the orders of the VCs are complied with. Stringent action should be taken against any person who does not comply with the order.
  • § The Committee felt that the penalty for frivolous or malafide complaints was too high and should be substantially reduced.  Also, while deciding whether a disclosure is frivolous, the intention of the complainant should be examined rather than the outcome of the inquiry.  The complainant should also have the right to appeal to the High Court.

 

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NAC’s Draft Food Security Bill: A Hit or Miss?

June 13th, 2011 No comments

On June 3, 2011, the National Advisory Council (NAC) posted the draft of the National Food Security Bill on its website and has asked for public feed back on the Bill by June 12, 2011.

Key Features of the Draft National Food Security Bill, 2011

-          Every person shall have the right of access to sufficient and safe food either directly or by purchasing the food.

-          The central and state government shall share the financial cost of procuring, storing and distributing food grains to the population entitled to it.

-          There are special provisions for pregnant and lactating mothers, children in the 0-6 age group, destitute persons, homeless persons and disaster affected persons.  The appropriate government shall take immediate steps to provide relief to persons living in starvation.

-          The state government shall provide all children upto class 8 freshly cooked meal in all schools run by local bodies and the government.  It shall also provide mid-day meals to children who are admitted under the 25% quota for children belonging to disadvantaged groups in unaided private schools

-          Each household shall be categorised into priority and general in rural and urban areas.

-          Each individual in the priority group households shall be entitled to at least 7kg of grain every month at a maximum price of Rs 3/kg for rice, Rs 2/kg for wheat and Rs 1/kg for millets.

-          Each individual in the general group households shall be entitled to 4kg of grain per month at 50 per cent of the Minimum Support Price for paddy, wheat and millet.

-          The state government can exclude certain persons who fulfil the exclusion criteria in rural and urban areas.  However, it has to cover at least 90% of the population in rural areas and 50% of the population in urban areas.

-          The Bill lays down norms for procurement, storage and distribution of food grains under the Public Distribution System.  It also gives detailed norms for Fair Price Shops, ration cards, and monitoring the system.

-          It seeks to set up a National Food Commission and State Food Commission in each state.  The Commission shall inquire into complaints on denial of entitlement, advise central and state governments and monitor the schemes.  Each district shall have a District Grievance Redressal Officer.

-          The Bill includes penalties for dereliction of duty by public servants, which includes deduction of penalty from the salary of the public servant.

-          Any person deprived of his entitlement to food shall be entitled to compensation from the appropriate government.

-          The Gram Sabhas should conduct social audits of all schemes under this Act.

The Back Story to the Bill

The Right to Food Campaign

In April 2001, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) Rajasthan had filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court against the Government of India, Food Corporation of India, and six state governments. The petition contended that the right to food was a fundamental right under “the right to life” provided by Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

Although no final judgment has been given, the Supreme Court has issued several interim orders in the case.  Among the most significant of theses is the conversion of eight centrally sponsored schemes into legal entitlements, including the Public Distribution System (PDS), Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY), National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education, also known as “Mid-Day Meals scheme”, and Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), among others.

Some orders by the Court in the area of food security include:

  • BPL families are entitled to 35kg of foodgrains at a subsidised price.
  • State governments are to implement the Mid-Day Meals scheme by providing every child in government schools and government assisted primary schools with a prepared mid-day-meal with a minimum content of 300 calories and 8-12 grams of protein each day of school for a minimum of 200 days.
  • Six priority groups have been identified who are entitled to the Antyodaya card.  The card entitles the people to 35 kg of grain per month, at Rs 2/kg for wheat and Rs 3/kg for rice.

On May 8, 2002, the Supreme Court appointed two Commissioners for the purpose of monitoring the implementation of the interim orders.  The Commissioners have submitted a number of reports highlighting the issues of concern on the implementation of the interim orders and making detailed recommendations.

Government Initiatives

One of the key commitments made by both UPA I and UPA II was on food security whereby it proposed to enact a legislation that would entitle every BPL family in both rural and urban areas to 25 kg of rice or wheat per month at Rs 3 per kg.  However, the Sonia Gandhi-led NAC has differences with the central government on the contours of the legislation.  The basic issues on which there are divergent views include (a) coverage under the Bill; (b) method to be adopted to ensure food security; (c) the amount of food grain required; and (d) the impact on the food subsidy burden.

On October 23, 2010, the NAC made certain recommendations on the National Food Security Bill.  The Bill seeks to address nutritional deficiencies in the population.

Some of its key recommendations are:

  • § Legal entitlements to subsidised food grains should be extended to at least 75% of the population – 90% in rural areas and 50% in urban areas.
  • § The priority households (46% in rural areas and 28% in urban areas) should have a monthly entitlement of 35kgs at Rs 1 per kg for millets, Rs 2 for wheat and Rs 3 for rice.  Rural coverage can be adjusted state-wise based on the Planning Commission’s 2004-05 poverty estimates.
  • § The general households (44% in rural areas and 22% in urban areas) should have a monthly entitlement of 20kgs at a price that does not exceed 50% of the current Minimum Support Price (the price at which the government buys food grains from the producer) for millets, wheat and rice.
  • § Government should specify criteria for categorisation of population into priority and general households.  Full coverage of food entitlements should be extended to all by March 31, 2014.
  • § Need for enabling provisions to revitalise agriculture, diversifying the commodities available under the Public Distribution System (PDS), ensuring universal access to safe water and proper sanitation, universalising primary health care, and extending nutritional and health support to adolescent girls.

In response, the Prime Minister set up an Expert Committee under Dr C. Rangarajan to examine the Bill and make recommendations.  The Rangarajan Committee submitted its report in January 2011.  It stated that it would not be possible to implement the NAC recommendations because of lack of availability of food grains and huge subsidy implications.  It was in favour of restricting entitlements of Rs 2/kg for wheat and Rs 3/kg for rice to households falling below the Tendulkar Committee poverty line plus 10 per cent of the BPL population.  This is equivalent to 48 per cent of the rural and 28 per cent of the urban population, which is about the same as the NAC categorisation for priority households.

The NAC however criticised the Rangarajan Committee’s stand and proceeded with the task of drafting an appropriate legislation.  It finally posted the draft of the National Food Security Bill on its website and has asked for public feedback.

Divergent Perspectives

The draft has been critiqued by various experts.  A group of distinguished economists wrote an open letter to Mrs Sonia Gandhi opposing the NAC’s draft on the grounds that it legalises the PDS even though there is a large body of evidence of the inefficiency of the system (see Wadhwa Committee reports and Planning Commission report).  The economists contended that in addition to reforming the PDS, other alternate models of subsidy delivery should be examined such as direct cash transfers or food stamps.  The system of direct cash transfer through food coupons was also outlined in the Economic Survey of 2009-10.  It stated that the system would be less prone to corruption since it would cut down government’s involvement in procuring, storing and distributing food grains.

However, there are divergent views on direct cash transfer too.  Some experts such as the economist and member of NAC, Prof Jean Dreze contend that food entitlement is better because it is inflation proof and it gets consumed more wisely than cash which can be easily misspent.  Others are of the view that cash transfer has the potential for providing economic and food security to the poor.

The ball is now in the government’s court.  According to news reports, the government may finalise the Bill soon and introduce it in the forthcoming monsoon session of Parliament.

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The NAC Communal Violence Bill: Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence

June 9th, 2011 5 comments

The National Advisory Committee has recently come out with a Communal Violence Bill.  The Bill is intended to prevent acts of violence, or incitement to violence directed at people by virtue of their membership to any “group”.  An existing Bill titled the “Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005” pending in the Rajya Sabha (analysis here).  The main features of the NAC Bill are explained below:

The Bill makes illegal acts which result in injury to persons or property, if such acts are directed against persons on the basis of their affiliation to any group, and if such an act destroys the secular fabric of the nation.  Such acts include sexual assault, hate propaganda, torture and organized communal violence.

It makes public servants punishable for failing to discharge their stated duties in an unbiased manner.  In addition, public servants have duties such as the duty to provide protection to victims of communal violence and also have to take steps to prevent the outbreak of communal violence.

The Bill establishes a National Authority for Communal Harmony, Justice, and Reparation to prevent acts of communal violence, incitement to communal violence, containing the spread of communal violence, and monitoring investigations into acts of communal violence.  The Authority can also inquire into and investigate acts of communal violence by itself.  The Bill also provides for the setting up of State Authorities for Communal Harmony, Justice, and Reparation.

The central or state government has been given the authority to intercept any messages or transmissions if it feels that it might lead to communal violence.  This power is subject to existing procedures which have to be complied with for intercepting messages and transmissions.

Importantly, if public officers are liable to be prosecuted for offences under the Bill, and prior sanction is required for such prosecution, the state government has to grant or refuse sanction within 30 days.  If not, then sanction will be deemed to have been granted.

The Bill also allows the states to set up one or more Human Rights Defender of Justice and Reparations’ in every district.  The Human Rights defender will ensure that those affected by communal and targeted violence are able to access their rights under existing laws.

Apart from these, the Bill also establishes state and district-level authorities for assessing compensation for victims of communal violence.  States also have numerous obligations towards victims, such as the establishment of relief camps, ensuring proper facilities, medical provisions and clothing for those within such camps, etc.  The states government also has the obligation to create conditions which allow the return of victims of communal violence to the place of their ordinary residence.

 

FAQ: Why is land acquisition so controversial?

June 1st, 2011 2 comments

The government’s acquisition of land for projects has been facing protests across the country, the violence in Uttar Pradesh being only the latest.

What is Land Acquisition?

Land acquisition is the process by which the government forcibly acquires private property for public purpose without the consent of the land-owner. It is thus different from a land purchase, in which the sale is made by a willing seller.

How is this process governed?

Land Acquisition is governed by the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.  The government has to follow a process of declaring the land to be acquired, notify the interested persons, and acquire the land after paying due compensation. Various state legislatures have also passed Acts that detail various aspects of the acquisition process.

Land is a state subject.  Why is Parliament passing a law?

Though land is a state subject, “acquisition and requisitioning of property” is in the concurrent list. Both Parliament and state legislatures can make laws on this subject.

Is there a new Act being proposed?

The government had introduced a Bill to amend this Act in 2007. That Bill lapsed in 2009 at the time of the general elections. The government has stated its intent to re-introduce a similar Bill, but has not yet done so.

What are the major changes being proposed?

There are significant changes proposed in the 2007 Bill with regard to (a) the purpose for which land may be acquired; (b) the amount of compensation to be paid; (c) the process of acquisition; (d) use of the land acquired; and (e) dispute settlement mechanisms. We explain these briefly below.

Purpose: Currently, land may be acquired for a range of uses such as village sites, town or rural planning, residential purposes for poor or displaced persons, planned development (education, housing, health, slum clearance), and for state corporations.

Land may also be acquired for use by private companies for the above purposes or if the work “is likely to prove useful to the public”.

The 2007 Bill had a narrower list: (a) for strategic naval, military or air force purposes; (b) for public infrastructure projects; and (c) for any purpose useful to the general public if 70% of the land has been purchased from willing sellers through the free market.

Compensation: The current Act requires market value to be paid for the land and any other property on it (buildings, trees, irrigation work etc) as well as expenses for compelling the person change place of residence or business. It explicitly prohibits taking into account the intended use of land while computing market value. The 2007 Bill requires payment of the highest of three items: the minimum value specified for stamp duty, the average of the top 50 per cent by price of land sale in the vicinity, and the average of the top 50 pc of the land purchased for the project from willing sellers. For computing recent land sale, the intended land use is to be used. Thus, agricultural land being acquired for an industrial project will be paid the price of industrial land.

Process of acquisition: Several changes are proposed, including the requirement of a social impact assessment. Any project that displaces more than 400 families (200 in hilly, tribal and desert areas) will require an SIA before the acquisition is approved.

Use of land acquired: The 2007 Bill requires the land acquired to be used for that purpose within five years. If this condition is not met, the land reverts to the government (it is not returned to the original land owners). If any acquired land is transferred to another entity, 80 pc of the capital gains has to be shared with the original land-owners and their legal heirs.

Dispute Settlement: Currently, all disputes are resolved by civil courts, which results in delays. The 2007 Bill sets up Land Acquisition Compensation Dispute Resolution Authority at the state and national levels. These authorities will have the power of civil courts, and will adjudicate disputes related to compensation claims.

Does the proposed Bill address the major issues?

The Bill narrows the uses for which land may be acquired. It also changes the compensation due and links that to the market price for which land is to be used.

There could be significant changes in acquisition for use by private industry. Firstly, they would have to purchase at least 70 pc of the required land from willing sellers (presumably, at fair market price). Second, the compensation amount for the remaining (upto 30 pc of land) could be significantly higher than the current method. This would be at a premium to the average paid to the willing sellers, and it would be based on intended industrial or commercial use which usually commands a higher price than agricultural land.

However, the effect on acquisition for projects such as highways and railways will not be significant, as there is no benchmark for price determination for such use.

This article appeared in Rediff News on May 12, 2011 and can be accessed here.


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