The Congress on Wednesday launched a protest against the ruling National Democratic Alliance’s move to dilute the land acquisition law even as social activist Anna Hazare threatened to start a nationwide “jail bharo andolan” on the issue.
Congress leaders who gathered for the “Zameen Waapsi Andolan” at Jantar Mantar in the heart of Delhi said the new land acquisition bill introduced by the NDA in parliament went against the farmers.
“The bill is anti-farmer. We will not accept it. The government must protect the interest of the farmers," Congress leader Raj Babbar told the large gathering of protesters, including farmers.
The Congress said an ordinance passed by the government in December to ease land acquisition regulations would fill the coffers of business houses. The party accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi with failing to keep his pre-election promise of depositing Rs15 lakh into the accounts of every common man.
"The Modi government did not fulfill its promise of bringing Rs 15 lakh to everyone's account. He is preparing, rather, to direct all that money to the accounts of big corporate houses by way of the land acquisition ordinance," Congress spokesman Digvijay Singh said.
Singh said the people's protests against the land acquisition ordinance symbolises a war between farmers and big corporations. “It is now for the people to decide which side they would support," he said.
Hazare, who concluded a two-day protest on the land acquisition issue yesterday, rubbished the government’s claims that the changes in the land acquisition law are meant to improve the lot of farmers. He warned he would launch a nationwide “jail bharo andolan” if the government did not roll back the proposed changes.
“The government is more worried about industrialists and not about farmers. The country has woken up now. These people will also take irrigated land and give it to the industrialists, Hazare told a large number of farmers who reached Delhi after his protest had ended.
He contended that many clauses in the land acquisition ordinance passed by the government in December were not in favour of farmers, including one that does not require authorities to seek the consent of 70% of farmers whose land is being acquired.
"Under the new law, if a farmer's land is acquired, he cannot approach the court unless the government permits him. Going to court is the fundamental right of every individual," the social activist said.
Hazare said he would form a committee to decide the future course of action at the national level. "We will give you a call of jail bharo andolan after deciding on the future course of action. It is only then that the government will wake up to our demands. The government is currently under the influence of power and needs to be shown its place...the kick power gives is more dangerous than the kick one gets from consuming alcohol," he said.
Analysts say the backlash over the bill could stonewall the Prime Minister’s efforts to get reforms through in the budget session of parliament, impeding projects worth thousands of crores that have been stuck for want of land.
The opposition walked out of the Lok Sabha yesterday while BJP allies BJD, Swabhimani Paksh, AIADMK and Akali Dal joined the protest as rural development minister Birender Singh tabled the bill that will replace the ordinance promulgated in December.
The ordinance made significant changes to the UPA government’s land acquisition act, including removing a consent clause for acquiring land for industrial corridors, PPP projects, rural infrastructure, affordable housing and defence projects.
The Congress has said the new bill is "ill conceived and anti-farmer". It has said its opposition to the bill is non-negotiable and that it will go to any extent to ensure that it is withdrawn.
Despite a massive majority in the Lok Sabha, the ruling BJP needs the support of the Congress to pass legislation in the Rajya Sabha.