Chaos likely in Lok Sabha today over land bill controversy

  • HT Correspondent and Agencies, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Mar 10, 2015 09:10 IST

Lok Sabha is set to witness a confrontation over land acquisition bill again on Tuesday when it will be taken up for voting with the opposition dead against it despite the government's offer to make changes in the legislation in the "larger interest" of the farming community.

Faced with stiff opposition, the Narendra Modi government is set to move at least half-a-dozen amendments to the land bill in Lok Sabha, including the one related to restricting land for industrial corridors and putting in place a hassle-free mechanism for grievance redressal.

PTI quoted unnamed sources in the government as saying that at least 6 official amendments will be moved on Tuesday for which the Lok Sabha secretariat has already been approached.

Sources said one of the official amendment could relate to restricting acquisition of land within 1 km of both sides of railway tracks and highways.

Another amendment could relate to doing away with moving the high court for appeals against land acquisition. People can now approach authorities within the district first for redressal.

At present, the requirement of conducting a social impact assessment and limits on multi-cropped land may be waived by the government, for defence, rural infrastructure including electrification, affordable housing, industrial corridors, and infrastructure and social infrastructure projects.

The official amendments could do away with exemption to social infrastructure projects in PPP mode to placate the opposition and NGOs.

Sources suggested to HT that the government may also offer partial restoration of the contentious consent clause for acquisition for private projects to appease the Opposition.

The government on Monday had offered to scrap a provision to acquire land for social infrastructure and put a cap on acquisition for industrial projects as part of a compromise to win parliamentary approval for its controversial land ordinance.

Determined to shed the perceived anti-farmer tag attached to the proposed legislation, the government may also make acquisition of multi-crop agricultural land a “last option” only when barren, government, community or single-crop land is not available. The UPA’s law had a similar provision.

To appease the Opposition, the government may provide for returning 20% of developed land to a land owner and giving employment to every eligible member of a land-owning family for projects on their land. The UPA’s law provides for a job for one person in project-affected families.

NDA partner Shiv Sena, meanwhile, was ambivalent on the issue, even though its support will hardly matter in the Lower House where the BJP has a majority on its own.

Giving a shot in arm to the opposition, the Shiv Sena said it has not taken any decision on supporting the legislation or otherwise.

"We have given our suggestions to the Prime Minister in writing. We will act according to the direction of the party chief Uddhav Thackeray," party leader Sanjay Raut told PTI, indicating that the bill in its present form was not acceptable to the party.

Shiv Sena is the second largest constituent of the BJP led NDA, having 18 members in the Lower House and 3 in the Upper House. Modi dispensation has the numbers in Lok Sabha to see the bill through but is not in a majority in Rajya Sabha.

Toughening its stand, Congress on Monday decided that it will vote against the bill unless it is sent to the Parliamentary Standing Committee or presented in the original form as passed in 2013.

The Congress' main objection to the land ordinance is that the new law has removed the clauses for mandatory consent for farmers in land acquisition and the Social Impact Assessment.

It decided to issue a three-line whip to its members in the Lower House asking them to be present and vote against the measure.

The decision was taken at a meeting chaired by Sonia Gandhi which was attended by Lok Sabha MPs and some other senior party leaders to discuss the strategy over the bill.

Congress took the decision even as parliamentary affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu said in Lok Sabha on Monday that the "government is willing to go in for amendment in the (land) bill in the larger interest of the community and the country."

He made the offer while intervening in the debate on the bill to replace the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Ordinance.

His intervention came amid stiff opposition to the bill even as Congress and some other parties demanded that it be referred to a parliamentary standing committee for threadbare scrutiny.

Expressing the willingness of his government to consider the 52 amendments moved by members, he hoped that rural development minister Birender Singh will look into the possibility of reducing the land for industrial corridors being planned to boost manufacturing sector in the country.

Naidu also suggested creating a "bank" of barren land for acquisition and said first such land should be used for setting up of industrial projects.

Indications of possible confrontation between the government and the Congress over the measure were visible earlier on Monday, when the main Opposition party accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "personal adamance" for the showdown.

As the Lower House took up debate on the new land bill on Monday, Opposition slammed the government over the measure saying it is "draconian" and "anti-poor" provisions would have a deleterious effect on India's food security.

The Opposition members, ranging from the Congress and Trinamool Congress (TMC) to the Left, BJD and AIADMK, launched a tirade against the government.

Several opposition members particularly opposed the NDA government's move to do away with Section 2 and 3A of the existing land acquisition law which provided for social impact assessment before land transfer and safeguarding the interest of farmers.

The land acquisition bill, which seeks to replace an ordinance issued in December to amend the Land Act 2013, was introduced in the Lok Sabha on February 24.

The opposition strategy appears to be to keep the bill pending in Rajya Sabha without rejecting it so as to torpedo possible plans of the government to call a joint session.

A measure has to be passed in one House and get defeated in the other to enable it to be brought up in a joint session for passage.

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