Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed readiness to make changes in a contentious land acquisition ordinance on Friday, reaching out to the Opposition on an issue seen as the first major test of his pro-industry credentials.
Modi said his government wanted to make changes in the land law passed by the previous UPA government because several chief ministers had called it anti-farmer and it hampered development of infrastructure.
“We should not have ego that there can be nothing better than what we did. When you passed the land act (in 2013), we stood shoulder to shoulder with you. We knew that you want to take political mileage out of it. Still we stood by you,” he told the Congress in the Lok Sabha.
Modi sought the support of the Opposition in winning parliamentary approval for the bill, which he said was in the interest of farmers. “If you feel there are any shortcomings, I am ready for any changes in it ... Don’t make it an issue of your prestige.”
The land ordinance issued in December exempts projects in defence, rural electrification, rural housing and industrial corridors from the provisions of a law enacted by the UPA government that required the consent of 80% of affected landowners for any acquisition.
It also ended the need for companies to conduct a social impact study for such projects that are seen as imperative to create jobs for some 10 million people who enter the workforce every year.
The ordinance needs the approval of both Houses of Parliament to become law. It will lapse if Parliament does not ratify it this budget session. The BJP is dependent on the Congress to pass bills in the Rajya Sabha, where it does not have the required numbers.
Modi’s readiness to accommodate changes comes in the wake of heavy resistance from the Opposition as well some of his allies to the land ordinance seen by the industry as business-friendly.
The Prime Minister, who has drawn flak for his silence on controversial communal and divisive remarks by some BJP and Sangh Parivar leaders, said the nation has to work collectively for progress.
During his more than 70-minute speech, he dwelt upon MNREGA, black money, corruption and coal block allocations, besides steps like empowerment of states to strengthen federalism, cleanliness drive and Jan Dhan as part of good governance.
“Let us find solutions to problems which are old and we have inherited,” he said.
He took a dig at the Opposition over rumours that the MNREGA scheme was being stopped. “You may say that I do not have wisdom in some areas ... But at least I do have some political wisdom ... How can I shut down this scheme? MNREGA is a living example of your failures.”
MNREGA would continue with “honour and dignity”, Modi said, adding he “will keep beating the drums that you formulated for the poor (the scheme) to force them to continue to dig holes in the ground even after 60 years of Independence. You have done a good thing by leaving your footprints which people should know.”