Land bill controversy: It's clear who’s telling lies now

In his, by now ‘compulsory’ address on the State-owned radio, Mann ki baat, on March 22, Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused the combined Opposition in Parliament opposing the amendments moved by this government to the land acquisition Bill, 2013 of spreading a pack of ‘lies’ as a ‘conspiracy’ to undermine farmers’ interests.

columns Updated: Apr 07, 2015 08:39 IST
Land ordinance,article 123,BJP

In his, by now ‘compulsory’ address on the State-owned radio, Mann ki baat, on March 22, Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused the combined Opposition in Parliament opposing the amendments moved by this government to the land acquisition Bill, 2013 of spreading a pack of ‘lies’ as a ‘conspiracy’ to undermine farmers’ interests.

Now, the recent BJP’s two-day national executive in Bengaluru vowed to oppose the Opposition’s ‘disinformation campaign’. The national media reported that ‘the land ordinance entirely dominated’ this meeting (Hindustan Times, April 5). Saying that the reality was different from that propagated by the Opposition, a booklet titled ‘Information about Disinformation’ was circulated at the meeting. The PM said that unlike the previous governments that worked for the rich, his government is working for the poor.

In an unprecedented manner, the Rajya Sabha has been ‘prorogued’ to facilitate the re-issuance of the land acquisition ordinance a day before the earlier ordinance lapsed on April 5.

Proroguing one House during a session to facilitate the issuance of ordinances has been only in the rarest of rare cases in our Parliament’s history. It may have been necessary under situations when the state budgets needed to be approved in time for states under President’s rule, but never in recent history has this happened for the promulgation of a law.

By taking recourse to such methods, a peculiar situation has developed when the finance Bill, which was introduced in the 234th session of the Rajya Sabha, will now be sent back to the Lok Sabha in the 235th session, whenever the president issues fresh summons for this.

The power to issue an ordinance is a British legacy of retaining control by the Crown, overruling the opinion of even the highly restricted and selected legislative bodies under colonial rule.

In the Constituent Assembly, Hriday Nath Kunzru objected to continuing with this provision in independent India’s Constitution, pointing out that the ordinance-making power of the governor general under the Government of India Act 1935 has always “been unpopular”.

Replying while rejecting the removal of this provision in our Constitution, BR Ambedkar said: “My submission to the House is that it is not difficult to imagine cases where the powers conferred by the ordinary law existing at any particular moment may be deficient to deal with a situation, which may suddenly and immediately arise….The emergency must be dealt with, and it seems to me that the only solution is to confer upon the President the power to promulgate a law, which will enable the executive to deal with that particular situation because it cannot resort to the ordinary process of law because again ex-hypothesi the legislature is not in session.”

Hence, Article 123 is there in our Constitution.

Does the re-issuance of the land ordinance, in the face of the opposition by the majority in the Rajya Sabha, fall under such an ‘emergency’? In creating a situation by proroguing an ongoing Parliament session to facilitate the re-issuance of this ordinance, is the Modi government not dangerously tweaking our Constitution and parliamentary procedures and moving towards authoritarian rule?

Why such desperation to re-issue this ordinance? Why is such a campaign of untruths charging the Opposition with spreading ‘lies’ being unleashed by the PM? Is it a lie to say that the BJP had fully supported the passing of the 2013 land acquisition Act? Then why these changes now? Do these changes not suggest that Modi is bringing them to benefit both the foreign and domestic corporates at the expense of the already beleaguered Indian farmer? Therefore, is this not an attempt to actualise the ‘pay-back time’ to benefit those who liberally financed Modi’s electoral campaign?

The original law stipulated a percentage of consent of the families of farmers (70-80%) whose land is being acquired. The Modi government ordinance added a new section (10A) increasing the number in the special category that are exempt from such consent requirements — industrial corridors and infrastructure projects, including projects under public-private-partnership.

The earlier law required a social impact assessment and review by an expert group and defined a bar on the acquisition of multi-crop agricultural land. Have these not been removed with regard to the new five items added to the special category, Mr Prime Minister?

Is it a lie, Mr Prime Minister, that Section 24 (2) has been amended? The earlier Bill allowed the return of the acquired land if the award had been made five or more years prior to the coming into force of the 2013 law (i.e. any award passed on or before January 1, 2009) provided either compensation had not been paid or physical possession had not been taken.

Is this provision now not being amended, Mr Prime Minister, in favour of the corporates acquiring land and against the interests of the farmer? During the last week of the Parliament session, the Rajya Sabha was informed in a written reply by the minister concerned that of the land already acquired for special economic zones (SEZs) nearly half is lying unutilised even after five years.

Has not the Modi government amended and expanded the definition of industrial corridors to include land up to 1 kilometre on either side of the designated road or railway track for such an industrial corridor? Is it not a fact that the amount of land that can be now acquired for the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor alone is estimated to be a whopping 17.5% of our agricultural land?

Of course, we need to promote industrialisation. But not ‘crony’ capitalism. Protect our agriculture and the kisans’ — our annadaataas — livelihood and prevent them from being pushed into a faster pace of committing distress suicides. No industrialisation has ever succeeded by adversely affecting the food security of any country.

Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP
The views expressed by the author are personal

First Published: Apr 06, 2015 21:10 IST