Continuing UPA's reforms juggernaut - as well as making a base for a strong political statement for elections 2014- the contentious Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill will likely be cleared by a GoM in its September 27 meeting.
Since the Sharad Pawar-led GoM comprises the entire cabinet minus Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the bill that has been discussed in the cabinet twice, could be introduced in Parliament directly, a senior official said.The land bill that attempts to catalyse industrial development has been a point of political conflict with large corporations like Posco and Arcelor-Mittal wanting to invest billions of dollars on one side and rights of landowners, including resettlement packages, on the other.
Of the 25 recommendations the Sumitra Mahajan-headed standing committee made, all but two have been accepted, the official said. The two rejected clauses are: one, that the government should have no role in direct private purchase of land; and two, a complete ban on acquiring agricultural land.
"Just like RTI and NREGA acts were the political statement of UPA 1, food security bill and land bill will be the twin pillars of our political strategy for 2014," rural development minister Jairam Ramesh said.
"These are far more important than the nuts and bolts of legislation. Land is a livelihood issue with deep political implications."
But since the UPA can't pass the bill on its own, the way to enactment is unclear.
"Simply because the opposition will not support, we can't sabotage ourselves," Ramesh said.
"We will tell the electorate that we made an attempt."
As in the case of opening up multi-brand retail to foreign direct investment last week, the bill leaves much of the decision-making to state governments. Multi-cropped land, for instance, will be acquired as the last resort, if state governments agree.
Land is a state subject, while its acquisition is on the concurrent list, where the Centre plays an important role.
Where land bill falls short is in its failure to address the problem of multiplicity of Acts on acquiring land. All told, of the 17 Acts of Parliament governing land acquisition, the bill will reduce it merely by three - it absorbs the powers of the SEZ Act and two defence Acts.
But it carries a clause under which the rehabilitation and resettlement of the bill can, through an executive notification like in the case of increasing FDI in multi-brand retail, apply to all other Acts.
The land bill has a "poison pill" - a first in a civil bill - and will lapse 20 years after being enacted.