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Saubhadra Chatterji, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, September 19, 2012
In this season of measures to bolster the economy, senior UPA ministers will meet next week to see if the land acquisition bill can be made more ‘industry-friendly’. The Group of Ministers (GoM) on the land bill, headed by agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, will hold its first meeting on September 27, after the bill failed to pass the cabinet meeting earlier this month.

The meeting assumes significance as rural development minister Jairam Ramesh had recently ruled out any 'changes' in the 'basic structure' of the bill. After consulting his political bosses, Ramesh had said, “The land bill is the political agenda of the Congress and it will be fulfiled.”

Interestingly, the GoM on the bill also has urban development minister Kamal Nath and industry and commerce minister Anand Sharma as its members. Both ministers had objected to the current bill on the ground that it may adversely affect investors' sentiments.

The other members of the GoM are defence minister A K Antony, finance minister P Chidambaram, Planning Commission deputy chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia, panchayati raj minister Kishore Chandra Deo, petroleum minister Jaipal Reddy, law minister Salman Khurshid, housing minister Kumari Selja, Ramesh and MoS in PMO V Narayanasamy.

A section of the UPA is set to push for more industry-friendly provisions in the bill to strike a balance between the need of the industry and protection of farmers. In the cabinet meeting, Kamal Nath reportedly demanded dilution of the provisions of Social Impact Assessment (SIA) and Sharma demanded that SEZs should remain out of the purview of the bill.

An adamant Ramesh, however, said recently, “Just like the Constitution, the land bill also has a basic structure which can't be changed.” Ramesh had also met the Prime Minister recently to discuss the bill.