Road ministry to set up LA Cells to resolve land, compensation issues

With hundreds of crores of rupees stuck in state treasuries to be disbursed as land compensation, the ministry of road transport and highways has decided to set up land acquisition (LA) cells across the country for its speedy disbursal.

These LA cells will also act as an interface between the central government and those farmers whose land is being acquired to try and ensure that potential disputes do not land up in courts.

The move follows delays in land acquisition and compensation disbursal by state governments for road and highway projects and their failure to report to the central government on the reasons for such delays, according to a roads ministry official who asked not to be named.

As a result, a lot of infrastructure projects have been stuck. “It’s a very contentious issue and access at state level is a big challenge. So, these LA cells would be our mechanism to monitor land acquisition and compensation,” the official said.

Besides, they would also undertake “advocacy work” with the land owners. He added that the creation of the LA cells did not affect the rights of the states. “We are not taking away rights of the state governments. Land acquisition is a state subject and they are the ones responsible for doing it.”

The LA cells will work in a three-tier system, involving the cells, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and the roads ministry. They would be set up at the regional offices of NHAI. The LA cells will hire retired revenue or government officials as consultants who are aware of the land acquisition process and disbursal of land compensation. These officials will work at the micro-level—village, block or district—find out where the compensation money is stuck and inform the Centre.

The move comes as roads and highways minister Nitin Gadkari has set a target of increasing the network of national highways to 500,000 km of national highways by 2019 from less than 200,000 km at present. With just around three years left of the government’s tenure, the road ministry has a huge task at hand for allotting work for widening and up-grading roads to national highways. The LA cells are expected to facilitate the process of land acquisition towards this end.

Land will be also needed to build planned basic roadside amenities, such as washrooms, drinking water outlets and multi-utility shops—ideally along with adequate parking facilities—every 25-50 km along national highways. For this, the government will need around 3,500 acres of land.

At present for national projects like highways and roads, the centre notifies the area where land needs to be acquired. The state government is then directed by the Centre to start the land acquisition process and money is provided for the purpose. The state government in turn disburses the money to the district collector who issues cheques to the land owners.

However, the official cited above said, generally state governments fail to release this money from state treasuries because of three reasons—they get a huge amount of interest on the compensation; there may be a cash crunch in the state; and there may be political differences between the Centre and the state.

“The LA cells will counter these roadblocks and make our work easy. They will alert Centre where money is stuck and the ministry in turn would issue orders accordingly,” the roads ministry official said.

Source: Live Mint, Mar 16, 2016.

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