Constitution of India
The Constitution of India requires each state to adopt its own laws on land administration and land reform and grants states the authority to legislate on land. Thus, individual state laws in India govern most matters pertaining to land. The Constitution stipulates that "All lands, minerals and other things of value underlying the ocean within the territorial waters, or the continental shelf, or the exclusive economic zone, of India shall vest in the Union and be held for the purposes of the Union" (Art. 297). The Constitution further provides that “No person shall be deprived of his property save by authority of law" (Article 300A). The Constitution limits the government’s right to acquire property unless compensation is paid to the affected landholder (Art. 31A).
The Forty-Fourth Amendment Act of 1978 abolished the right to property as a fundamental right and introduced it as a constitutional right under Article 300A. If the right to property is infringed, aggrieved persons may appeal to the High Court under Article 226 of the Indian Constitution.
LARR Act, 2013
In 2013, the Indian Government enacted the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (LARR Act). This Act, consisting of 13 Chapters, divided in 114 Sections and 3 Schedules, provides for land acquisition, compensation, rehabilitation and resettlement, and applies when land is acquired for a "public purpose", defined by Section 2 of the Act. Until 2013, land acquisition in India was governed by the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.The LARR Act, 2013 not only provides compensation in the event of expropriation for public purposes, but also extensive rehabilitation and resettlement benefits to affected families. To implement the consent and social impact assessment procedures established by the LARR 2013, the Indian government passed the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Social Impact Assessment and Consent) Rules in 2014.
The LARR Act, 2013 requires that government and acquiring bodies conduct a social impact assessment, which must be appraised by an independent expert group, before acquiring land in a compulsory manner (Secs. 4-8, LARR Act, 2013). The social impact assessment requirement may be bypassed in cases of urgency (Secs. 9, 40, LARR Act, 2013). Under Section 2 of the LARR Act, the government or acquiring bodies must obtain the consent of 70-80% of affected families before acquiring land.
After the decision to acquire land is made, the government and acquiring bodies must notify affected landholders and also prepare rehabilitation and resettlement scheme (Secs. 11, 16, 31-42, LARR Act, 2013). The Act provides procedures for establishing a rehabilitation and resettlement committee to monitor the process of resettling displaced persons (Secs. 41-48, LARR Act, 2013).
Since the enactment of the LARR Act, 2013, the Modi government has passed several temporary ordinances aimed at watering down certain provisions in the LARR Act that protect affected landholders. In particular, these orinance exempted certain types of acquisition projects, such as rural infrastructure and industrial corridor projects, from the LARR Act's social impact assessment and consent requirements. In 2015, a Bill which aimed at amending LARR Act, 2013 was introduced by Parliament. Ultimately the Bill do not pass into law. As of 2015, all temporary ordinances lapsed, meaningthat all of the provisions of the LARR Act, 2013 currently remain in effect.
Forest Rights Act, 2006
The Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA, 2006) recognizes customary rights to forest lands. Section 3 of the Act grants forest rights to Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers including: right to live in the forest land for habitation or for self-cultivation for livelihood; right of ownership, access to collect, use, and dispose of minor forest produce. The Act also provides Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers the right to access, collect, use and dispose of minor forest produce.
The Act defines "forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes" as members or community of Scheduled Tribes who primarily reside in and who depend on the forest or forest land for bonafide livelihoods (Sec. 2, FRA, 2006). These include pastoralists and communities. The ownership right applies to "forest land”, defined as any forest area and includes unclassified forest, undemarcated forests, existing or deemed forest, protected forests, reserved forests, sanctuaries and national parks (Sec. 2, FRA, 2006. Also, traditional forest dwellers must have primarily resided on the forest land for at least three generations prior to Dec. 13, 2005 to obtain rights. Registration of forest lands is free, but the Gram Sabha (traditional village institution) must receive and decide on claims to community forests, and prepare a map delineating the area of each claim (Sec. 6, FRA 2006; FRA Rules 2007). The process for registering customary forest lands under the FRA has been riddled with delays. As of 2015, it was estimated that only 3.4 million hectares were formally registered in India. However, approximately 40 million hectares of forest land, an area estimated to be populated by 150 million people (90 million tribal people), remain eligible for registration under the FRA.
Other relevant national laws
Other relevant national laws in India include Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 or PESA, which is a law designed to ensure self governance through traditional Gram Sabhas for people living in the Scheduled Areas of India. India has many other subnational laws in effect.