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Doing Business in India

November 1st, 2017 No comments

‘Ease of doing business’ refers to the regulatory environment in a country to set up and operate a business.  Every year, the World Bank compares the business environment in 190 countries in its Ease of Doing Business Report.  In its report released yesterday, India’s rank improved to 100 out of 190 countries in 2017, from its rank of 130 in the previous year.[1],[2]  In this context, we explain the parameters on which each country is ranked, what has led to India’s improvement in rankings, and some recommendations made by committees to further improve the business environment in the country.

What parameters is a country ranked on?

Table 1 (2)The ease of doing business rankings are based on a country’s performance on 10 parameters such as enforcing contracts and starting a business.  In India, these rankings are based on the business environment in Mumbai and Delhi.  A lower rank indicates better performance on that parameter, whereas a higher rank indicates worse performance on the indicator.  India’s ranking improved in six out of the 10 parameters over the previous year, while it remained the same or fell in the remaining four (see Table 1).

Note that these parameters are regulated by different agencies across the three tiers of government (i.e. central, state and municipal).  For example, for starting a business, registration and other clearances are granted by central ministries such as Finance and Corporate Affairs.  Electricity and water connections for a business are granted by the state electricity and water boards.  The municipal corporations grant building permits and various other no objection certificates to businesses.

What has led to an improvement in India’s ease of doing business rankings?

According to the 2017 report, India introduced changes in some of these parameters, which helped in improving its ranking.1  Some of these changes include:

  • Starting a business: Starting a business involves obtaining clearances, and conforming to various regulations under laws such as Companies Act, 2013.  The report noted that India merged the application procedure for getting a Permanent Account Number (PAN) and the Tax Account Number (TAN) for new businesses.  It also improved the online application system for getting a PAN and a TAN.
  • Getting credit and resolving insolvency: The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code passed in 2016 provides for a 180-day time-bound process to resolve insolvency.[3]  It also provides for the continuation of a debtor’s business during these proceedings.  The Code allows secured creditors to opt out of resolution proceedings, and specifies that a debtor will be immune against creditor claims during the 180-day insolvency resolution process.  Prior to the passage of the Code, it took 4.3 years in India to liquidate a business (as of 2015).
  • Paying taxes: The report notes that India made paying taxes easier by requiring that payments to the Employees Provident Fund are made electronically.[4]  Further, it introduced measures to ease compliance with corporate income tax.1,[5]
  • Trading across borders: Import border compliance at the Jawaharlal Nehru Port, Mumbai was reduced.  Export and Import costs were also reduced through increasing use of electronic and mobile platforms, among others.
  • Enforcing contracts: The introduction of the National Judicial Data Grid has made it possible to generate case management reports on local courts.[6]

What are some of the other recommendations to improve the business environment in India?

Over the last few years various committees, such as an Expert Committee constituted by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion and the Standing Committee of Commerce, have studied the the regulatory requirements for starting a business in India and the made recommendations on the ease of doing business.[7],[8],[9]  Some of the issues and recommendations made by these committees are discussed below.

Starting a business:  The Standing Committee observed that regulations and procedures for starting a business are time-consuming.8  The Committee observed that as a consequence, a large number of start-ups are moving out of India and setting base in countries like Singapore where such procedures are easier.  It emphasised on the need to streamline regulations to give businesses in India a boost.  Note that the government announced the ‘Start-up India Action Plan in January 2016.[10]  The 19-point plan identified steps to simplify the process for registering and operating start-ups. It also proposed to grant tax exemptions to these businesses.

The Committee had suggested that the procedures and time period for registration of companies should be reduced.  In addition, a unique business ID should be created to integrate all information related to a debtor.  This ID should be used as sole reference for the business.

Acquiring land, registering property:  Under the current legal framework there are delays in acquiring land and getting necessary permissions to use it.  These delays are on account of multiple reasons including the availability of suitable land and disputes related to land titles.  It has been noted that land titles in India are unclear due to various reasons including legacy of the zamindari system, gaps in the legal framework and poor administration of land records.[11]

The Standing Committee observed that the process of updating and digitising land records has been going on for three decades.  It recommended that this process should be completed at the earliest.  The digitised records would assist in removing ambiguity in land titles and help in its smooth transfer.  It also suggested that land ownership may be ascertained by integrating space technology and identification documents such as Aadhaar.  Note that as of September 2017, land records had been linked with Aadhaar in 4% of the villages across the country.[11]

Several states have taken steps to improve regulations related to land and transfer of property.8  These steps include integration of land records and land registration by Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat, and the passage of a law to certify land titles in urban areas by Rajasthan.  The Committee also recommended creating a single window for registration of property, to reduce delays.8

Construction permits:  In India, obtaining construction permits involves multiple procedures and is time consuming.  The Standing Committee had observed that it took 33 procedures (such as getting no objection certificates from individual departments) over 192 days to obtain a construction permit in India.8  On the other hand, obtaining a similar permit in Singapore involved 10 procedures and took 26 days.

Taxation:  The Standing Committee had noted that the tax administration in India was complex, and arbitration proceedings were time-consuming.  It observed that the controversies on the Minimum Alternate Tax on capital gains and the tax disputes with companies like Vodafone and Shell had harmed India’s image on taxation matters.  Such policy uncertainty and tax disputes have made foreign companies hesitant to do business in India.8

The Committee observed that for ‘Make in India’ to succeed, there is a need for a fair, judicious and stable tax administration in the country.  Further, it suggested that to reduce harassment of tax payers, an electronic tax administration system should be created.8  Such a system would reduce human interface during dispute resolution.  Note that the Goods and Services Tax (GST) was introduced across the country from July 1, 2017.  The GST framework allows for electronic filling of tax returns, among other measures.[12]

Enforcing contracts:  Enforcing contracts requires the involvement of the judicial system.  The time taken to enforce contracts in India is long.  For instance, the Standing Committee noted that it took close to four years in India for enforcing contracts.  On the other hand, it took less than six months for contract enforcement in Singapore.  This may be due to various reasons including complex litigation procedures, confusion related to jurisdiction of courts and high existing pendency of cases.8

The Standing Committee recommended that an alternative dispute resolution mechanism and fast track courts should be set up to expedite disposal of contract enforcement cases.  It suggested that efforts should be made to limit adjournments to exceptional circumstances only.  It also recommended that certified practitioners should be created, to assist dispute resolution.8

[1] ‘Doing Business 2018’, World Bank, http://www.doingbusiness.org/~/media/WBG/DoingBusiness/Documents/Annual-Reports/English/DB2018-Full-Report.pdf.

[2] ‘Doing Business 2017’, World Bank, http://www.doingbusiness.org/~/media/WBG/DoingBusiness/Documents/Annual-Reports/English/DB17-Full-Report.pdf.

[3] Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016, http://www.prsindia.org/billtrack/the-insolvency-and-bankruptcy-bill-2015-4100/.

[4] G.S.R. 436 (E), G.S.R. 437 (E) and G.S.R. 438 (E), Gazette of India, Ministry of Labour and Employment, May 4, 2017, http://labour.gov.in/sites/default/files/Notifications%20for%20amendment%20under%20EPF%2C%20EPS%20and%20EDLI%20Schemes%20for%20e-Payment_0.pdf.

[5] Finance Bill, 2017, http://www.prsindia.org/billtrack/the-finance-bill-2017-4681/; Memorandum explaining the provisions of the Finance Bill, 2017, http://unionbudget.nic.in/ub2017-18/memo/memo.pdf.

[6] National Judicial Data Grid, http://njdg.ecourts.gov.in/njdg_public/index.php.

[7] Report of the Expert Committee on Prior Permissions and Regulatory Mechanism, Department of Industrial Policy Promotion, February 27, 2016.

[8] ‘Ease of Doing Business’, 122nd Report of the Department Related Standing Committee on Commerce, December 21, 2015, http://164.100.47.5/newcommittee/reports/EnglishCommittees/Committee%20on%20Commerce/122.pdf.

[9] Ease of Doing Business: An Enterprise of Survey of Indian States, NITI Aayog, August 28, 2017, http://niti.gov.in/writereaddata/files/document_publication/EoDB_Single.pdf.

[10] Start Up India Action Plan, January 2016, http://www.startupindia.gov.in/pdffile.php?title=Startup%20India%20Action%20Plan&type=Action&q=Action%20Plan.pdf&content_type=Action&submenupoint=action.

[11] Land Records and Titles in India, September 2017, http://www.prsindia.org/parliamenttrack/analytical-reports/land-records-and-titles-in-india-4941/.

[12] The Central Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017, http://www.prsindia.org/billtrack/the-central-goods-and-services-tax-bill-2017-4697/.

Land acquisition process can take 50 months

September 6th, 2013 3 comments

The new Land Acquisition Bill has detailed a process for acquiring land.  The process could take up to 50 months.  This will increase the gestation period of projects.  The new time line and the attendant uncertainty at each step will have to be factored in by promoters of projects while computing the costs and feasibility.

The details of the process are given in the Table below.  Some of the processes can be conducted concurrently with others. The processes which need to be done sequentially are shown in bold.  These add up to 50 months (not counting extensions).

Time limits for various steps for Land Acquisition under the new Act

Process Section Time limit
Social Impact Assessment 4(1) last proviso 6 months
Appraisal of SIA by review committee 7(4) and 7(5) 2 months
Examination of land acquisition proposal and SIA by appropriate government 8 No time limit specified
SIA expert group appraisal to Preliminary notification 14 12 months but extendable by appropriate government
Preliminary notification to updating of land records 11(5) 2 months
Preliminary notification to objections 16(1) 60 days
Preliminary notification to R&R survey 17(1) Time limit to be prescribed in Rules
Preliminary notification under section 11 to Declaration under section 20 15 and 20(7) (inconsistency) 12 months (S15)12 months but extendable by appropriate government; also court stay period excluded (S20(7))
Time for compensation claims to be made 22(2) 30 days to 6 months
Declaration to Award 26 12 months but extendable by appropriate government
Correction of Award by Collector 34(1) 6 months
Award to Possession of land by collector  39(1) After ensuring compensation is paid (3 months) and monetary component of R&R paid (6 months).
Time for infrastructure entitlements under R&R 39(1) proviso 18 months after award

Source: PRS

Total Time Limit (assuming no extensions): SIA (6 months) + Expert group appraisal (2 months) + Preliminary notification (12 months) + Declaration (12 months) + Award (12 months) + Possession (6 months) = 50 months.

 

The President’s speech: Charting out reform

March 7th, 2013 No comments

Yesterday the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha engaged in a debate on the President’s speech, known as the Motion of Thanks. The President’s speech is a statement of the legislative and policy achievements of the government during the preceding year and gives a broad indication of the agenda for the year ahead. Close to the end of the UPA government’s term, it would be useful to evaluate the status of the commitments made in the President’s addresses. (To know more about the significance of the President’s speech refer to this Indian Express article. To understand the broad policy and legislative agenda outlined in this year’s address see this PRS Blog.)

The President’s speeches since the beginning of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2009, have addressed reforms to the financial and social sectors, improving accountability of public officials, and making the delivery of public services more efficient.  We analyse the status of each of these commitments.

Accountability in governance processes

In an effort to increase accountability and transparency in governance processes, the government introduced a number of Bills.

  • The the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill and the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill enable individuals to file complaints against judges and other government officials for corruption and misbehaviour.
  • The Whistleblowers Bill has been introduced to protect persons who are making disclosures on corruption, on the misuse of power and on criminal offences by public servants.

These bills have been passed by the Lok Sabha and are pending in the Rajya Sabha.  The government has recently approved amendments to the Lokpal Bill, which may be considered by the Rajya Sabha in the Budget session.

Public service delivery

In order to make public service delivery more efficient, the government introduced the Electronic Services Delivery Bill and the Citizen’s Charter Bill.

  • The Electronic Services Delivery Bill aims to deliver all government services electronically .
  • The Citizens Charter Bill creates a grievance redressal process for complaints against the functioning of any public authority.
  • Both Bills are pending in the Lok Sabha since introduction in December 2011.
  • Related initiatives include linking the delivery of public services to Aadhaar and moving towards the cash transfer of subsidies. On January 1, 2013, the government piloted cash transfers to deliver subsidies for scholarships and pensions.

Social sector reforms: land, food security and education

Broad sectoral reforms have been undertaken in land acquisition, food security and education to aid development and economic growth.

  • Land:  In 2011, the government introduced the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill. The Standing Committee Report on the Bill was released in May last year, based on which the government circulated a list of amendments to the Bill in December 2012.
  • Education: Elementary and middle school education saw reform in 2009 with the passage of the Right to Education Act (RTE Act). This legislation provides every child between the age of six to fourteen years with the right to free and compulsory education. As per the law, by March 2013 all schools are to conform to the minimum standards prescribed. States have expressed concerns over their preparedness in meeting this requirement and it remains to be seen how the government addresses this issue.
  • Food security: The National Food Security Bill is pending in Parliament since 2011. The Bill seeks to make food security a legal entitlement, reform the existing Public Distribution System and explore innovative mechanisms such as cash transfer and food coupons for the efficient delivery of food grains. The Standing Committee gave its recommendations on the Bill in January this year.

Financial sector reforms

In order to aid growth and encourage investments, the President had mapped out necessary financial sector reforms.

  • Taxation: The Direct Taxes Code has been introduced in Parliament to enhance tax realisation. However, even though the Standing Committee has presented its report, there has been little progress on the Bill. Efforts are underway to build political consensus on the Goods and Services Tax to rationalise indirect taxes.
  • Regulation of specific sectors: A bill to regulate the pension sector has been introduced in Parliament. Other financial sector reforms include a new Companies Bill, amendments to the Banking laws and a bill regulating the insurance sector.  Amendments to the banking laws have been approved by Parliament, while those to the Companies Bill have only been passed by the Lok Sabha.

In the backdrop of these legislations, it will be interesting to see the direction the recommendations of the Financial Sector Legislative Reforms Commission, responsible for redrafting all financial sector regulation, takes.

Internal security

The government is taking measures to deal with internal security concerns such as terrorism and naxalism. In 2009, the President mentioned that the government has proposed the setting up of a National Counter Terrorism Centre. However, this has been on hold since March 2011.

At the beginning of the 15th Lok Sabha in June 2009, the President presented the 100 day agenda of the UPA II government, in his address. Of the eight bills listed for passing within 100 days, none have been passed. In addition, the President’s address in 2009 mentioned five other Bills, from which, only the RTE Act has been passed.  In the final year of its tenure, it needs to be seen what are the different legislative items and economic measures, on which the government would be able to build consensus across the political spectrum.

 

Supreme Court stays Calcutta High Court judgement on Singur Act

September 17th, 2012 1 comment

According to news reports, the Supreme Court stayed a Calcutta High Court judgement on the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, 2011 [Singur Act] on August 24, 2012. The apex court also issued a notice to Tata Motors seeking its response within four weeks, on the West Bengal government’s petition challenging the High Court order.

In 2008, the Left Front government acquired land in Singur under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, for Tata Motors to build a Nano car factory.  In its first year of coming to power in West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) led government notified the Singur Act through which it sought to reclaim this land to return a portion of it to farmers.

On June 22, 2012, a Division bench of the Calcutta High Court struck down the Singur Act terming it unconstitutional and void.  In its judgment, the Court found some sections of the Singur Act to be in conflict with the central Land Acquisition Act, 1894.  As land acquisition is a Concurrent List subject under the Constitution, both Parliament and state legislatures have the power to make laws on it.  However, if provisions in the state law conflict with provisions in the central law, then the state law cannot prevail unless it receives Presidential assent.  The Calcutta High Court held the Singur Act to be unconstitutional because: (a) it was in conflict with the central Land Acquisition Act, 1894, and (b) Presidential assent was not obtained for the Act to prevail in West Bengal.

The central Act mentions that for the government to acquire land, it has to demonstrate: (1) that land is being acquired for a public purpose,[i] and (2) that the government will provide compensation to persons from whom land is being acquired.  Provisions in the Singur Act that relate to public purpose and compensation were found to be in conflict with the corresponding provisions in the central Act.  The Court was of the opinion that transfer of land to the farmers does not constitute ‘public purpose’ as defined in the central Act.  As argued by the Tata Motors’ counsel, return of land to unwilling owners is a ‘private purpose’ or in ‘particular interest of individuals’ rather than in the ‘general interest of the community’.  Second, clauses pertaining to compensation to Tata Motors for their investment in the Nano project were found to be vague.  The Singur Act only provides for the refund of the amount paid by Tata Motors and the vendors to the state government for leasing the land.  It does not provide for the payment of any other amount of money for acquiring the Tata Motors’ land nor the principles for the determination of such an amount.  The High Court ordered that these provisions tantamount to ‘no compensation’ and struck down the related provisions.

The matter will come up for consideration in the Supreme Court next on October 15, 2012.


[i] According to Section 3 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, acquisition of land for ‘public purpose’ includes, among others: provision or planned development of village sites; provision of land for town or rural planning; the provision of land for planned development of land from public funds in pursuance of a scheme or policy of the Government; and the provision of land for a corporation owned or controlled by the State.

 

Changes recommended by the Standing Committee on Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011

May 18th, 2012 2 comments

(Co-authored by Sana Gangwani and Pallavi Bedi)

The Standing Committee Report on the Land Acquisition and R&R Bill, 2011 was tabled in the Lok Sabha on May 17, 2012.

The major changes to the Bill recommended by the Committee include:

  • Land may not be acquired for use by private companies and PPPs.
  • The role of the local governments should be expanded and made more participatory in the acquisition and R&R process. The role of Gram Sabhas should not be limited to consultation, but their consent should be obtained at different stages.
  • The Clause giving wide discretion to the government in notifying any project as infrastructure project should be deleted.
  • Threshold for R&R provisions should be fixed by the states and not the central government since sale and purchase of land is a state subject in the Constitution (Item 18, State List).
  • There should be a restriction on the acquisition of agricultural land.  The limit on the acquisition of such land should be fixed by the state governments.

For a detailed comparison of the Bill with the recommendations of the Standing Committee see here.

Land Acquisition: Public realm, private gain

September 8th, 2010 4 comments

One of the most politically contentious issues in recent times has been the government’s right to acquire land for ‘public purpose’.  Increasingly, farmers are refusing to part with their land without adequate compensation, the most recent example being the agitation in Uttar Pradesh over the acquisition of land for the Yamuna Express Highway.

Presently, land acquisition in India is governed by the Land Acquisition Act, an archaic law passed more than a century ago in 1894.  According to the Act, the government has the right to acquire private land without the consent of the land owners if the land is acquired for a “public purpose” project (such as development of towns and village sites, building of schools, hospitals and housing and state run corporations).  The land owners get only the current price value of the land as compensation.  The key provision that has triggered most of the discontent is the one that allows the government to acquire land for private companies if it is for a “public purpose” project.  This has led to conflict over issues of compensation, rehabilitation of displaced people and the type of land that is being acquired.

The UPA government introduced the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill in conjunction with the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill on December 6, 2007 in the Lok Sabha and referred them to the Standing Committee on Rural Development for scrutiny.  The Committee submitted its report on October 21, 2008 but the Bills lapsed at the end of the 14th Lok Sabha.  The government is planning to introduce revised versions of the Bills.  The following paragraphs discuss the lapsed Bills to give some idea of the government’s perspective on the issue while analysing the lacunae in the Bills.

The Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2007 redefined “public purpose” to allow land acquisition only for defence purposes, infrastructure projects, or any project useful to the general public where 70% of the land had already been purchased from willing sellers through the free market.  It prohibited land acquisition for companies unless they had already purchased 70% of the required land.  The Bill also made it mandatory for the government to conduct a social impact assessment if land acquisition resulted in displacement of 400 families in the plains or 200 families in the hills or tribal areas.  The compensation was to be extended to tribals and individuals with tenancy rights under state laws.  The compensation was based on many factors such as market rates, the intended use of the land, and the value of standing crop.  A Land Acquisition Compensation Disputes Settlement Authority was to be established to adjudicate disputes.

The Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2007 sought to provide for benefits and compensation to people displaced by land acquisition or any other involuntary displacements.  The Bill created project-specific authorities to formulate, implement and monitor the rehabilitation process.  It also outlined minimum benefits for displaced families such as land, house, monetary compensation, skill training and preference for jobs.  A grievance redressal system was also provided for.

Although the Bills were a step in the right direction, many issues still remained unresolved.  Since the Land Acquisition Bill barred the civil courts from entertaining any disputes related to land acquisition, it was unclear whether there was a mechanism by which a person could challenge the qualification of a project as “public purpose”.  Unlike the Special Economic Zone Act, 2005, the Bill did not specify the type of land that could be acquired (such as waste and barren lands).  The Bill made special provision for land taken in the case of ‘urgency’.  However, it did not define the term urgency, which could lead to confusion and misuse of the term.

The biggest loop-hole in the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill was the use of non-binding language.  Take for example Clause 25, which stated that “The Government may, by notification, declare any area…as a resettlement area.” Furthermore, Clause 36(1) stated that land for land “shall be allotted…if Government land is available.”  The government could effectively get away with not providing many of the benefits listed in the Bill.  Also, most of the safeguards and benefits were limited to families affected by large-scale displacements (400 or more families in the plains and 200 or more families in the hills and tribal areas).  The benefits for affected families in case of smaller scale displacements were not clearly spelt out.  Lastly, the Bill stated that compensation to displaced families should be borne by the requiring body (body which needs the land for its projects).  Who would bear the expenditure of rehabilitation in case of natural disasters remained ambiguous.

If India is to attain economic prosperity, the government needs to strike a balance between the need for development and protecting the rights of people whose land is being acquired.

Kaushiki Sanyal

The article was published in Sahara Time (Issue dated September 4, 2010, page 36)