What is the status of the controversial Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill that the Congress wanted to move in the budget session but was vetoed by Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, the UPA’s second largest constituent?
While Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Minister C.P. Joshi on Tuesday said the Cabinet had cleared the Bill, Banerjee, who had threatened to walk out of a cabinet meeting over the issue, says her party would have been consulted.
“He (Joshi) is free to say what he wants. But I have discussed the issue with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and I don’t feel the government will take any decision without consulting us,” Banerjee said.
Cabinet secretary K.M. Chandrasekhar said he did not remember the status of the bill “offhand”.
The Bill provides for private developers acquiring 70 per cent of land for a proposed industrial project directly from farmers and landowners while the remaining 30 per cent is to be acquired by the state.
Banerjee, who has not attended seven out of 12 Cabinet meetings held so far, has been strongly opposing the Bill. She doesn’t want the government to acquire land for companies and wants them to buy 100 per cent and not just the 70 per cent they require.
Banerjee also does not want industry to come up on agricultural land and favours giving legal rights to farmers to enable them to buy back their land if the proposed industry fails to come up within the prescribed time.
“The government did not introduce the Bill in Parliament because certain provisions were not acceptable to us,” she said.
But Joshi was confident. “As far as the land acquisition Bill is concerned, the Cabinet has cleared it,” he said and added that the question on when it will be introduced in Parliament has to be answered by the Parliamentary Affairs Ministry.
Joshi, however, refused to elaborate when the Cabinet had cleared the bill and whether Banerjee’s concerns had been addressed.
Banerjee’s agitation had forced the Tata group to move its small car project Nano out of Singur in West Bengal to Gujarat last year. She had also forced the Left Front government in West Bengal to abandon its land acquisition for a special economic zone in Nandigram.
It is quite clear that she would not like to be part of any decision on land acquisition ahead of the assembly elections in West Bengal in 2011.