Finance minister Arun Jaitley said on Tuesday the government could call a joint session of Parliament to pass the land bill if it was stalled by the Opposition-dominated Rajya Sabha, but hoped the constitutional mechanism would not be needed to clear the crucial reform measure.
The union cabinet last month invoked an ordinance for the third time to simplify the government and private companies’ ability to acquire land after failing to get support in Parliament for the contentious bill championed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“I hope, we do not have to reach that situation (of convening a joint session of Parliament) and it gets sorted out before that,” Jaitley told reporters on the sidelines of a public event in California. “The present government, as far as the constitutional mechanism is concerned, has the numbers. Therefore, we would like to make sure that this landmark reform in India does take place.”
A Congress-led united Opposition in the Rajya Sabha has consistently blocked the land acquisition bill which it has termed anti-farmer, tying up infrastructure projects worth thousands of crores and thwarting Modi’s plans to boost the economy, modernise infrastructure and kick-start India’s manufacturing sector.
The NDA won a thumping majority in last year’s Lok Sabha elections but it lacks the numbers in the Rajya Sabha.
Failure by both Houses of Parliament to ratify the bill could open the way for Modi to call a rare joint session of Parliament, where his ruling coalition would have a majority on paper, to pass the land law.
The government introduced several amendments and formed a parliamentary committee to examine the bill in an attempt to build consensus following resistance from some NDA allies and RSS-affiliated groups.
“This has become politically very contentious,” Jaitley observed. “It is currently before the joint select committee. I am keeping my fingers crossed as to how this debate would proceed. But I do hope that the joint select committee comes out with some agreed formulation. Otherwise, if consensus eludes us, both Houses choose to disagree with each other, a joint session of the Houses will take it up.”
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has led the offensive against the NDA government over the past two months, with repeated attacks on its land acquisition and farm policies while courting voters in the countryside to shore up his poll-battered party.
The land bill has also come in for criticism from farmer groups over its compensation and resettlement clauses with the agrarian community still grappling with the effects of massive crop losses triggered by unseasonable rain earlier this year.
Jaitley said the government was committed to initiate the ground-breaking reform measure, but refused to give a timeline for convening a joint session of Parliament while noting that India’s appetite for reforms had increased.
“The land law which was approved in 2013 (by the UPA), in my view, has hindered the complete development of rural India,” he said. “Almost 55% of India is rural India.”
(With agency inputs)