Barely seven weeks after it pushed through an ordinance making drastic changes in the land acquisition legislation, the NDA regime is preparing to revisit its stance so as to address concerns regarding the dilution of the consent clause and social impact assessment. The “course correction”, sources said, may be reflected in the bill that will be tabled in Parliament. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday attended a wedding function at Saifai, signalling the new rapprochement that will drive the NDA’s change of stance.
Later in the day, office-bearers of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU)—which has called a massive farmer rally on Monday to discuss the land ordinance — met Union home minister Rajnath Singh and his cabinet colleagues Sushma Swaraj and Birender Singh. BKU general secretary Yudhvir Singh later told reporters the meeting had been positive and the government had sought a draft of its demands. The land bill was a subject of discussion during BJP chief Amit Shah’s recent meeting with senior RSS leaders as well.
Sources told Hindustan Times that office-bearers of RSS-affiliated bodies — Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, Bharatiya Kisan Sangh and Swadeshi Jagran Manch among others — met Shah and finance minister Arun Jaitley on Friday and advocated ‘immediate course correction’ to contain the ‘unrest’ brewing in the rural pockets of the country. They contended that farmers across the country were agitated, and that this was reflected in the Capital as the BJP was ‘boycotted’ in Outer Delhi in the recent assembly elections. Sources privy to the deliberations said that the government is also “worried” about the growing negative perception. The issue will be discussed with PM Modi.
Official sources said that while changes were being considered in the amendment bill that would be tabled, specifics have not been finalised yet.
The NDA regime’s rethink on the land ordinance comes amid mounting pressure from within and outside the ruling dispensation. While social activist Anna Hazare, supported by many NGOs, will be holding a two-day dharna in the capital from February 23 to protest against the land ordinance, the Congress is also turning on the heat with a rally here on February 25 that will be folowed by a countrywide agitation. While the government has been reaching out to opposition parties- and even considering the option of approaching Congress President Sonia Gandhi, if needed- to support its reformist agenda in the budget session, the opposition remains adamant on the land ordinance issue.
Prime Minisetr Narendra Modi’s visit to Saifai on Saturday to attend the pre-wedding ceremony of SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav’s grand-nephew and RJD chief Lalu Yadav’s daughter is being seen as yet another attempt by the NDA regime to soften the opposition ahead of the crucial budget session. While the government, which is in a minority in the Rajya Sabha, is working on a strategy to convene a joint session of Parliament to overcome opposition against crucial legislations, it is not sure about the support of even its allies when it comes to the land ordinance. BJP sources were of the view that land acquisition was a “very sensitive” issue in states like Bihar, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab where the party has ambitious expansion plans. If the government were to go for a joint session on this issue, even allies like SAD from Punjab and TDP from Andhra may find it difficult to go along, said sources.
RSS-affiliated bodies were learnt to have advised the government to keep the consent clause at 51 per cent, ensure proper employment of land owners in industrial corridors and creation of a land bank. They also suggested restoring the Social Impact Assessment in certain cases and introduction of some caveats in the case of acquisition of multi-crop land, apart from remunerative price to owners and others. The government was also advised to see if a piece of land can be taken on lease, instead of acquiring it.
The NDA government had promulgated an ordinance in December – immediately after the winter session of Parliament – doing away with mandatory consent clause and SIA for five categories including national security, defence, rural infrastructure including electrification, industrial corridors and building social infrastructure including PPP where ownership of land continues to be vested with the government.