The Centre’s hopes to pass the contentious land bill took another hit as Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janta Dal (BJD), a party that had earlier supported many government legislations, unequivocally announced on Saturday that it would oppose the bill.
According to Opposition sources, J Jayalalitha’s AIADMK, the second-largest party in the Opposition camp after the Congress, is also “inclined to oppose” the land bill that has led different Opposition parties to join hands to dub the government as “anti-farmer”.
“We had welcomed the land bill in Lok Sabha. We even said we are happy with it. But happiness doesn’t mean that we will support it. We will oppose the land bill when it comes in Parliament,” Bhartruhari Mahtab, BJD’s Lok Sabha wing chief, told HT.
If the BJD and the AIADMK joins the Opposition ranks against the bill, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) -- even with the help from an array of fence-sitters like the BSP and the NCP -- would not be able to reach the majority mark of 123 in the 244-strong Rajya Sabha. The Opposition strength, including the SP, BJD and the AIADMK, stands at 148, while the entire the NDA is just 69.
The resistance to the land bill by two regional parties would also make the joint session route an uphill task for the government to pass the bill. The BJP is 66 MPs short of majority in a Joint Session of both Houses of Parliament. The Congress has already waged a war against the bill that would make it easier to acquire land for crucial infrastructure projects.
The proposed bill exempts projects related to defence, rural housing and power, along with industrial corridors, from the requirement that 80% of the affected landowners must agree to a sale. Critics say the move will hurt millions of farmers.
It also does away with the need for a "social impact assessment" to find out how many people would be affected by the loss of land.
The stand of the BJD may come as a rude jolt for the government as it had incorporated as many as four demands of the Odisha-based party through amendments to the original bill, in Lok Sabha during the first half of the budget session.
The BJD’s aversion, despite aggressive wooing of its chief Naveen Patnaik by the BJP brass, came amid further uncertainty over the SP and BSP’s support to the bill. With the merger of Janata Parivar, SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav’s hands are further tied in taking decisions vis-à-vis government policies and legislation.
The government, however, enjoys the option of re-promulgating the land ordinance yet again after the House is prorogued, without bringing the land bill to voting during the session.
The Opposition’s strategy is not to defeat the land bill but to delay it in the Upper House to deny the government any scope of taking it to a joint session of Parliament.
Mahtab, however, denied the shift in the stand due to peer pressure: “We decide on our stand purely keeping the interest of our state in mind,” he told HT.
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