President Pranab Mukherjee set the tone for the government to push for the tweaked land law on Monday amid resistance from the Opposition and rights groups, prompting the BJP to discuss ways to get the controversial legislation passed in Parliament.
The law has been suitably refined to protect farmers’ interests during land acquisition for crucial public projects, Mukherjee told a joint sitting of Parliament that launched the budget session.
“My government attaches paramount importance to safeguard the interest of farmers and families affected by land acquisition,” the President said, trying to allay fears the land act without a consent clause from landowners which the Modi government had enacted through an ordinance would benefit only industries.
But the Opposition remained firm that the ordinance, along with five more, wouldn’t be allowed to go through Parliament. These ordinances would expire on March 20, if not passed during this budget session.
The ruling coalition would introduce on Tuesday the bill to replace the land ordinance in the Lok Sabha, where it enjoys a brute majority but the problem lie in the Rajya Sabha.
The Congress has already given a notice for suspension of question hour in the Upper House to discuss the ordinance. Party chief Sonia Gandhi said the President’s speech had nothing new but was a rehash of UPA policies.
The ruling BJP has its hands full because rights activist Anna Hazare on Monday started a protest against the “anti-farmer” land law.
He got support from old associates Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia, the chief minister of Delhi and his deputy whose Aam Aadmi Party had routed the BJP in the national capital’s assembly polls.
“This is land grab by the government ... This is what the British used to do. To cater to industrialists, how can you betray farmers?” Hazare said before his dharna at Jantar Mantar.
Given the heat generated by the land law before the NDA government’s presents its first full-year budget on February 28, fear mounted within the BJP of a possible Parliament washout in the face of the Opposition’s belligerent stand.
Barring Prime Minister Narendra Modi, top BJP leaders closeted on Monday evening to see if the bill to be place before the Lok Sabha could be further refined to pacify the protesters.
There were hints that the government might consider the demands when Parliament debates the bill.
“We discussed all issues, including land acquisition. We discussed issues farmers have raised. Twenty-seven farmer organisations have met home minister Rajnath Singh,” Union minister Ananth Kumar said.
“We will consider what is on farmers’ minds. The Prime Minister has said at an all-party meet we will welcome suggestions.” The prime objection to the land acquisition ordinance has been that it removed the need for written consent from 70% of landowners for joint public-private projects. To make matters worse, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-affiliated Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) has also raised objection to the ordinance, seeing in it a reason for the BJP’s drubbing in Delhi.
The government tried its hand to bring the Opposition on board as Prime Minister Narendra Modi said dialogue and discussion were an essential part of democracy and hoped for a positive outcome of the budget session.
He walked up to the opposition benches with folded hands after entering the Lok Sabha on Monday morning — a first by the Prime Minister in almost nine months since taking charge.