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What is the Land Acquisition Act?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2016
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The Land Acquisition Act is a law in India allowing the government to seize private property for public purposes. Many nations have similar legislation, drafted by lawmakers to facilitate activities like building public schools and roads. The Land Acquisition Act dates to 1894 and lawmakers have amended it on several occasions. Some critics and activists argue for its abolition on the grounds that it is not effective and may create opportunities to exploit vulnerable land owners.

Under the Land Acquisition Act, the government can serve notice on landowners with property in the way of a public project. The notice informs landowners about a planned seizure, the compensation being offered, and the nature of the project. Property owners must be provided with compensation for the fair market value of the property, something difficult to determine in some cases. People can accept the notice or contest, arguing for more money or to keep their land, rather than being compelled to give it up.

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The creators of the act structured in protections to allow people to protest acquisition of their land. While the Land Acquisition Act was initially developed during the British rule of India, it was adopted in 1948 by both India and Pakistan when they achieved independence and started developing government policies. Changes to the act require parliamentary activity, as with other legislation. Sponsors must be prepared to present and defend changes, seeking out cosponsors to vote for them and lobbying other parliamentarians to support a given change or piece of legislation.

Some critics feel the Land Acquisition Act is too complicated. They argue it has a byzantine bureaucracy and suggest this slows the progress of smooth development in India. Other critics express the opposite, raising concerns about questionable land acquisitions. These challenges often surround the definition of a public project, with activists accusing the government of acquiring land for private development, even though this is not allowed under the law.

Reworkings of the Land Acquisition Act were presented in Indian parliament on numerous occasions, and in 2010, violent protests occurred over contentious land acquisitions. These protests involved poor landowners and raised awareness about applications and uses of the Land Acquisition Act. Numerous organizations and governments are interested in development in India and followed these protests carefully with concerns about the economy as well as civil liberties for residents, particularly poor landowners who might lack access to legal assistance to fight acquisitions.

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