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India reaches 'broad consensus' on land acquisition bill

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

India's main political parties have struck a "broad consensus" on a contentious land acquisition bill to better reward landowners whose property is bought for industrial development, a minister says.

The bill, intended to replace a more-than-century-old law framed by India's former British colonial rulers, proposes compensation of up to four times the market value of land in rural areas and two times the value in urban parts.

"We have reached a broad consensus on the land acquisition bill," Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath told reporters in New Delhi late Thursday after an all-party meeting.

The bill seeks to give property owners fairer prices for their land -- a politically charged issue that has delayed many projects including construction of a $12-billion plant by South Korean giant POSCO in eastern India.

Business lobbies say they welcome land acquisition reform but fear the measure could push up property purchase costs, making industrial projects financially unviable and sharply escalating housing costs.

Property firms say the bill could drive up land acquisition project costs by at least 40 to 60 percent.

The legislation includes resettlement and new skills training for people whose land is acquired as India industrialises in its quest to create more jobs for its youthful 1.2-billion population and help lift millions out of poverty.

It has been the pet project of left-leaning ruling Congress party president Sonia Gandhi and is seen as a key to the party winning votes in 2014 elections.

Acquiring land for factories, roads, housing and other projects has created sometimes deadly battlegrounds with many farmers complaining they have been forced to sell at below market rate and robbed of their livelihoods.

To win agreement, the government agreed to a demand of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party that land could be leased to developers so its ownership could remain with the landowners and give them a regular income.

Under the new legislation, the government can forcibly acquire land only with the consent of at least 80 percent of the families affected by projects.

The consensus paves way for possible passage of the bill when parliament resumes sitting Monday, Nath said.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130419/india-reaches-broad-consensus-land-acquisition-bill