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Lok Sabha TV – NITI Aayog Meet and Related Issues

         Lok Sabha TV  – NITI Aayog Meet and Related Issues

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16/07/2015

Yesterday 2nd governing council meeting of NITI Aayog was held, in which Chief Ministers of nine congress ruled states, West Bengal, Odisha, U.P and Tamil Nadu chose not to participate. Main agenda of the meet was to build consensus of proposed land acquisition amendment bill. Non-committal behavior of states converts idea of co-operative federalism and ‘Team India’ into trash.

NITI aayog was established last year and consists of

  1. Prime Minister of India as the ‘Chairperson’
  2. ‘Governing Council’ comprising the Chief Ministers of all the States and union territories with legislature and lieutenant governors of other Union Territories
  3. ‘Regional Councils’ will be formed to address specific issues and contingencies impacting more than one state or a region. The Regional Councils will be convened by the Prime Minister and will be consist of the Chief Ministers of States and Lt. Governors of Union Territories in the region.
  4. Experts, specialists and practitioners with ‘relevant domain knowledge’ as ‘special invitees’ nominated by the Prime Minister
  5. Full-time organizational framework.

From long, states have lamented the fact that planning commission was imposing irrelevant schemes on them. They used to argue that they should be provided with more money, leaving them on themselves. It was widely accepted that states as different as Kerala, Bihar or Punjab have unique socio economic problems and developmental priorities. While Punjab and Bihar need funds for literacy oriented schemes, Kerala may utilize same money better on tourism industry. Centralized planning is accused of causing lots of resource wastage.

In NITI Aayog, states participate in main body, whereas in Planning Commission their capacity to participate was limited through National Development Council which was different body. Further, there are so far 3 sub- groups chaired by Chief Ministers: Subgroup on Centrally Sponsored Schemes, on Skill Development and that on Swacchh Bharat Mission. Acceptance of recommendation of 14th Finance Commission for devolution of 42% of divisible proceeds to states was another huge step toward cooperative federalism. Now, states will hardly be able to blame centre for their own inefficiencies.

Our constitution rightly puts burden of socio-economic development on states. In line with this, almost all grassroot areas such as education, health, agriculture, irrigation etc are covered in state list. In past there is considerable evidence to suggest that it is only state that can turnaround, make or break economy under it. Center can just supplement its efforts. There are certain States which have, irrespective of Central Government support, made rapid strides in all spheres. Also there are states which irrespective of enormous support of center, still stand nowhere. This all depends upon state politics and administration. But unfortunately our media, civil society, NGOs and overall national debate and discourse is centered too much on Central Government.

As central issue of the meet was to sort out a way for land acquisition amendment, it has been decided that powers will be left with states to have their own strict Land acquisition law, if they wanted. Central Government claims that it was some states only who wanted amendments and that too some of them ruled by different governments. It was reported that it was almost impossible to acquire land or time of formalities under ‘Social Impact Assessment’ was prohibitively time consuming.

Experts say that neither the original law, nor the proposed one is apt. Both laws stress that acquisition can only be done for ‘Public Purpose’, but its definition should be more refined and precise. Earlier private school and hospitals were classified under public purpose but government agreed to exclude them. There is voice against acquisition for development on PPP model. But it should be noted that in PPP model ultimate ownership remains with government. We all know that capacity of government enterprises to build infrastructure is woefully inadequate. We can in no way rely solely on BSNL and MTNL to achieve targets under Digital India program. Similarly, ‘public purpose’ also includes construction of affordable housing. If target of ‘Housing for all’ is to be completed by 2022, then private sector will have play role along with government, in cases such as slum rehabilitation and redevelopment.

Original amendment bill specified 5 categories of projects in which consent and SIA will not be required at all, be it acquisition for public, private or PPP projects. These all 5 categories are of high public utility –

  1. Defense and Defense production,
  2. Rural infrastructure, including electrification, education and health
  3. Housing for poor including affordable housing (less than 800 sq. feet flats/ houses)
  4. Industrial corridors and infrastructure projects including projects taken up under Public Private Partnership mode where ownership of the land continues to be vested with the government.
  5. National Security

Bills was passed by Lok Sabha with following Amendments-

  1. Land shall be acquired up to 1 km on both sides of designated railway lines or roads for industrial corridor.
  2. Government shall undertake a survey of wasteland and arid land and maintain a record.
  3. A provision is included in the Bill for providing employment to project affected families.
  4. Hearings to be held in districts where land acquisition takes place.
  5. Courts won’t need government nod to take cognisance of offence under CrPC.
  6. ‘Five year’ clause for completion of project on acquired land will be augmented and amended by the length of the project. No acquisition will be transferred to private persons.
  7. Compulsory employment to be given to 1 member from every dependent family.
  8. Land acquired for Hospitals, Educational Institutions and other Social Projects will not come under definition of Industrial Corridor.
  9. Government to ensure before notification land acquired would be bare minimum required for a project.

New session will start on 21st July and how things get shaped is yet to be seen. Government wants to FastTrack investments and infrastructure development. This is main motivation behind this amendment. But this is not the only problem which is hampering development. There are other problems such as loss of promoter interest in projects, Banks copping with High NPAs are unwilling to lend, low demand, environmental bottlenecks etc.

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