Ruling BJP members joined others in a parliamentary panel on Monday to recommend that key amendments to the new land bill be dropped, possibly signalling the first climbdown in the NDA government’s reforms push.
By endorsing that the government abandon 12 of the 15 key amendments, the BJP MPs were virtually asking the government to restore the UPA’s land laws.
The government’s ordinance to do away with social impact assessment (SIA) and take away farmers’ rights to refuse any land acquisition bid, found no support from the committee as it also struck down provisions to acquire land for industrial corridors.
The panel also recommended that acquisition for affordable and rural housing as well as social infrastructure should not bypass the SIA and consent clauses.
The UPA law necessitated consent of 80 percent of the affected families for private projects and 70 percent of affected families for private-public-partnership projects. It also called for a social impact assessment (SIA) whenever land is acquired for infrastructure projects, or other uses.
Sources said all the 11 BJP members in the joint committee of Parliament on land bill moved amendments , seeking to bring back the two clauses.
“There was complete unanimity in the panel on these 12 clauses. The remaining three clauses will be taken up on Tuesday again, as the panel failed to reach a consensus on them,” said a senior member of the committee.
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These three clauses pertain to the retrospective effect of the land bill, whether a piece of land is to be returned to the original owner if a project fails to take off in five years and if compensation is deemed to have been paid if the money is kept in a dedicated account.
"It's as good as our own Act of 2013," a Congress member of the committee said after the meeting.
The NDA government had brought sweeping changes to the UPA’s land laws in December last year through an ordinance that was re-promulgated twice.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi and senior ministers threw their weight behind these amendments, calling them “pro-farmer” measures, the government faced a groundswell of opposition from various quarters, including RSS-affiliated outfits.
Of the 44 entities who deposed before the land panel, 42 had opposed the proposed amendments. The land bill also provided an opportunity for the Opposition to unite against the government.
The backtracking on the land bill may adversely hurt investor sentiment amid the GST bill logjam and the government’s delay in unleashing labour reforms, analysts say.
Though the recommendations of a parliamentary panel are not binding on the government, it would be difficult for the ruling NDA to ignore popular sentiment on the land issue.
Trinamool Congress members Derek O’Brien and Kalyan Banerjee walked out of the meeting, saying that the amendments were circulated on Monday morning and they had little time to study them.