Cong on the warpath over land bill, to hold protest in today

  • HT Correspondent and PTI, New Delhi
  • Updated: Feb 25, 2015 10:47 IST

Top Congress leaders and members of prominent civil society organisations will hold a protest rally named 'Zameen Wapsi Andolan' in Delhi on Wednesday.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi's political secretary Ahmed Patel, AICC general secretaries Digvijay Singh, Madhusoodhan Mistry, Ajay Maken, former rural development minister Jairam Ramesh, Salman Khursheed, Jitender Singh, Raj Babbar, Deepinder Hooda, Sushmita Deb will be attending the event.

"Congress is organising a mega rally --'Zameen Wapsi Andolan (Land return movement)' to oppose the BJP government's draconian ordinance that intends to change the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013 passed by the Congress government," the party said in a release.

The party has also attempted for convergence of farmers from across the country to raise their voice in opposition to the ordinance.

"Senior leaders of Congress will be present to challenge this ordinance. They will stand up for the 2013 law which was enacted by the UPA government to deliver equitable justice to the poor farmer and to empower the common man," the AICC said.

Declaring that its opposition to the land acquisition ordinance was non-negotiable, the Congress on Tuesday attacked the BJP-led government for introducing the bill in Lok Sabha to replace the ordinance despite three Union ministers giving assurances suggesting that all stakeholders would be taken on board.

BJP faces attack

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) found itself isolated on Tuesday as key allies joined opposition parties in resisting the introduction of the contentious land acquisition amendment bill in Parliament amid uproar in both Houses.

This was the first time NDA partners like the BJD, AIADMK and Shiromani Akali Dal expressed disapproval for any legislation pushed by the Narendra Modi government inside Parliament. In more embarrassment for the BJP, its biggest ally Shiv Sena boycotted a meeting of the ruling coalition held later in the day over the bill.

“We have come to power assuring farmers we will work for them. We will soon meet the PM to put our point across. How can you forcibly take land, even if it is for a social purpose?” asked Sena leader Sanjay Raut.

However, sources said Modi asked BJP lawmakers to aggressively defend the bill that critics call anti-poor and a threat to India’s food security, while party chief Amit Shah set up an eight-member committee to collect suggestions from farmers.

Headed by former Union minister Satyapal Malik, the panel has MPs Bhupender Yadav, Ram Narayan Dudi, Hukam Dev Narayan, Rakesh Singh, Sanjay Dhotre and Suresh Angadi, apart from chartered accountant Gopal Agarwal, as its members.

Analysts say the backlash over the bill could stonewall the PM’s efforts to get reforms through this budget session, impeding big-ticket projects worth thousands of crores that have been stuck for want of land.

“The Prime Minister said the bill is pro-poor and pro-farmer. He allayed apprehensions that the poor will suffer due to this bill,” said a BJP leader, adding that Modi asked legislators at the BJP parliamentary party meeting to “bust the myths” being promoted by opposition parties.

The Opposition walked out of Lok Sabha 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 an ordinance promulgated by the NDA government in December.

“This is not right that despite opposition, it (government) introduced the bill,” said Congress’ leader of the House, Mallikarjun Kharge. “This attitude of the government of bulldozing bills is not right.”

Finance minister Arun Jaitley, the leader of the House in Rajya Sabha, defended the bill and said it was unfair to blame the government for bypassing Parliament. “There were 70 ordinances passed by the government of the first prime minister of India (Jawaharlal Nehru). When my communist friends had the United Front government, in 18 months 77 ordinances came... So saying we bypassed Parliament is not fair.”

The ordinance made significant changes to the UPA government’s land acquisition Act, including removal of a consent clause for acquiring land for five areas — industrial corridors, PPP projects, rural infrastructure, affordable housing and defence.

“My party is a part of the NDA. Yet I oppose the bill because this law would not bring good days (acche din) for farmers,” Swabhimani Paksh’s Raju Shetty said.

The BJD opposed the bill because of the waiver on consent of farmers and social impact assessment. “These are the two issues that give rights to citizens, landowners and farmers,” said party leader Bhartruhari Mahtab.

The government was caught between a rock and a hard place with industries demanding cheap land and infrastructure while opposition parties and activists were building public opinion against such moves, experts said.

'Pro-poor' move

Even as opposition to the ordinance became more strident with Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal joining hands with social activist Anna Hazare to resist it, the BJP stepped up efforts to defend its ordinance as a “pro-poor”, “pro-farmer” step.

This bid was marked by tweets on the BJP’s official twitter handle, defending the measure as “pro-farmer” and Prime Minister Narendra Modi telling BJP MPs to be confident that the Ordinance was “pro-development” and in national interest. The party also offered the media a detailed defence of the measure, labelling the opposition on the streets as a conspiracy to malign the government.

In the face of opposition, the BJP formed an eight-member panel to seek farmers' suggestions on the land ordinance.

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