Farm laws repealed: Throwback to when Centre revoked land acquisition bill
The union government’s decision to repeal the three contentious farm laws that were passed in Parliament in 2020 is a throwback to the time when the government was similarly coerced by protests from its political opponents, allies and affiliates within the larger Sangh Parivar into rolling back the land acquisition bill. And in both cases, the primary opposition came from farmers.
In 2015, a year after the Narendra Modi-led government rode to power at the Centre with an unprecedented majority, the government had to accept the demand to revisit its contentious land acquisition law.
On Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the government has decided to repeal the three farm laws that are being opposed by a section of farmers in Punjab, Haryana and parts of Uttar Pradesh. The pronouncement was similar to the one that the PM made in 2015 when he declared that the land acquisition ordinance that was intended to simplify the acquisition process of agricultural land for companies will not be re-issued.
Just as the unwavering protest by a section of famers became a rallying point for the opposition parties to join forces in 2015, the protracted protests by farmers saw the possibility of an opposition coalition taking on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as it prepares for the crucial assembly elections in five states including Punjab and UP where the issue has a larger resonance.
In 2015, the government’s agreement to bring back crucial clauses related to consent of affected families and social impact assessment in the acquisition bill came weeks ahead of the Bihar assembly elections in 2015.
The government brought nine major amendments to the land acquisition law, 2013 through an ordinance and subsequently as part of the Bill. However, a joint committee of Parliament that was set up to discuss the issue could not evolve a consensus.
Though the Land Acquisition Bill was cleared in the Lok Sabha, it met with stiff opposition in the upper House where the BJP and its allies fell short of numbers.
Announcing the decision of not going ahead with the land acquisition law, the prime minister assured the country that the government was not against farmers.
On Friday, he reiterated that the three farm laws were drafted with the intent to empower farmers, particularly those with holdings of less than two hectares. In 2015, too, he had stressed on the government’s aim being to improve the Land Acquisition Act of 2013.
Both times that government faced not just a combative opposition but also heat from its allies such as the Shiv Sena and Shiromani Akali Dal (both are out of the NDA fold) and from the affiliates of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) such as the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh.
Earlier, the government also had to put on hold the proposed amendment to the Seeds Bill over concerns about the use of genetically modified (GM) seeds. It was put on hold following allegations that it was also anti-farmer and could impact the BJP‘s prospects in several states, which included Gujarat, Haryana, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan where permission for field trials of GM seeds was denied.
The bill was mooted as a pro-farmer legislation that would regulate seed and planting material to ensure quality, but affiliates of the RSS were vocal in their criticism of it.