A day after the cabinet approved an ordinance to ease land acquisition act to push stalled reforms, Congress leader and former rural develoment minister Jairam Ramesh spoke with Hindustan Times about his opposition to the methods and means of the government.
The ordinance comes barely a week after the end of the winter session during which the government's reform push was stonewalled in the Rajya Sabha by the opposition that disrupted the proceedings over conversion row and other issues.
This is the third ordinance moved by the Modi government in less than a week.
Ramesh spoke to Saubhadra Chatterji.
Q: How can the Congress, which had ushered in an 'ordinance raj' during its 10 year-rule, oppose an ordinance of NDA government?
A: UPA was not an ordinance raj. But just because we routed some bills through ordinance, why should these people (the NDA) do the same? Why don't they emulate the good things which the UPA did?
You can always find precedence. There was pressure on me for an ordinance on land bill. But I said no as I am principally opposed to it. In a democracy, an ordinance should be resorted to only as one of the most extreme circumstances. This was certainly not such a situation.
Q: The land ordinance is seen as a part of the government's overall strategy to boost investments.
A: This is a part of the overall strategy to damage control because the public agenda of this government of re-conversion, ghar-wapsi, the statements of all and sundry has put a big question mark and the Prime Minister's continued moun vrat (vow to remain silent) has put a big question mark on what exactly this government stands. Hence, let us do this ordinance.
Let me tell you, I am not just objecting to the ordinance route but also what the ordinance is going to do. It reverses the law back to the British-era law of 1894, opening doors once again to forcible acquisitions, excess land being acquired, easy acquisition of multi-crop land and it reopens the doors to diversion of land for different purpose. I have not seen the fine print but the word 'infrastructure' can be used in a very broad manner. We had consciously kept private hospitals and private educational institutes out of the purview of government's acquisition as they are money-making entities. They do not fall under the category of public purpose but now, they can be termed as infrastructure.
Q: Did you sense these changes were coming?
No. Gopinath Munde had assured me on more than one occasion that the land law would not see any changes. I know the sentiments of the current minister. But in this current government, the ministers do not matter much. It seems that this move was dictated from the highest level.
Q: You mean to say the PMO dictated these changes?
A: All I can see is that this Prime Minister has a constant desire to send messages. Since he loves acronyms-3D, ABCD, ROAD-let me suggest one acronym for him. NAMO stands for "No Action, Messaging Only".
The government must have the power to acquire land but it cannot do so by force. The philosophy of this government is-you pay these guys and take away the land! I am opposed to this forcible acquisition.
Q: But finance minister Arun Jaitley is believed to have consulted a senior Congress leader on changes to land law.
A: The 2013 act was preceded by two all-party meetings. There were bilateral consultations too. I went to Arun Jaitley's residence three times, met Sushma Swaraj thrice, Ravi Shankar Prasad's residence twice, Rajnath Singh's residence twice. You cannot unilaterally pass a law. This is zabardasti (forcibly done). This will vitiate the atmosphere further in Rajya Sabha. Has the Prime Minister ever spoken to the Congress president about this? No.
Q: So, another showdown is imminent?
A: Definitely. As it is the atmosphere in the Upper House is vitiated by the Prime Minister's continued silence over some of his colleagues' outrageous statements. This is going to create further problem between the government and the Opposition.
I am not a Congress floor manager. But it's the Congress which brought this land act and we cannot disown it 14 months later and we also cannot approve the method by which the changes have been brought.
From HT's Comment page: Sitaram Yechury blasts govt for ordinance raj