States can pass own land acquisition laws if Centre can't: Jaitley

As the contentious land bill remains mired in political opposition, the Centre on Wednesday hinted at a new approach that could see state governments enacting their own acquisition laws.
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Updated on Jul 15, 2015 10:59 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | By, New Delhi

With the key Land Acquisition bill stalled by political differences with the Opposition, the Centre may change tack and get states to enact their own land legislation, enabling it to push along the economic reform process.

Finance minister Arun Jaitley said on Wednesday that the states that wanted speedy development could take the lead in framing such laws with the Centre's backing, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi said “political considerations” over the bill should not be allowed to impact rural development.

"An important suggestion that came was that the Centre should endeavour to create a consensus but states cannot indefinitely wait for that consensus," Jaitley said after the second meeting of the governing council of the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog.

"If the Centre fails to approve this (bill) with consensus, then it should be left to the states. Those states which want to develop fast can suggest their own state legislation and the Centre (would) approve that state legislation. An overwhelming section gave this kind of suggestion," he said. The meeting was boycotted by 11 Opposition chief ministers, underlining sharp differences over the issue.

An industry-friendly land policy, along with labour reforms, is important for the government’s aim of improving India’s ease of doing business rankings and to achieving stronger economic growth. But its land bill has been stuck because the BJP does not have adequate strength in the Rajya Sabha and consensus eludes the joint select committee of Parliament that is considering the legislation, putting a question mark over its getting through in the monsoon session starting next week.

Land is a State subject, but acquisition of property is on the Concurrent List, which means that both state assemblies and Parliament can make laws that govern it, but in case of conflict, the central law will prevail.

"Under the Concurrent List, once the state approves the bill it needs the President’s assent. Once that is done, the law remains valid in that state," said constitutional expert Subhash Kashyap.

Any move to put the onus on the states first would confirm a clear segmentation between BJP and Opposition ruled states, with the latter dead set against the proposed central law which they perceive as running against the interests of farmers, a powerful vote bank.

BJP-ruled Rajasthan approved its own version of the land acquisition law two months before the Centre made its first attempt, by an ordinance in December 2014, at altering a law brought in by the ousted UPA government.

Many provisions of the Rajasthan government’s land bill found reflection in the Centre’s Ordinance that was primarily opposed by the Congress and some other non-BJP chief ministers including West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee and Tamil Nadu’s J Jayalalithaa.

The Punjab government said in a statement that its chief minister, Parkash Singh Badal had made the suggestion about states framing their own land laws at Wednesday’s NITI Aayog meeting. Badal, whose Shiromani Akali Dal party is an ally of the BJP, said that the ordinance had sent an anti-farmer message.

However, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, who had a meeting in Delhi on Tuesday, said that the UPA’s 2013 land acquisition law should be tested on the ground before amending it.

The PM said political considerations should not stand in the way of a solution that would ensure greater prosperity for farmers. “The political deadlock over land acquisition is seriously impacting rural development, including the creation of schools, hospitals, roads and irrigation projects,” Modi said.

Mamata, UP’s Akhilesh Yadav and chief ministers of nine Congress-ruled states boycotted Wednesday's meeting while Jayalalithaa and Odisha’s Naveen Patnaik did not attend because of prior engagements. Jayalalithaa said in a letter to the PM that her party was opposed to any amendments that would take away safeguards protecting farmers' interests.

(With inputs from our Chennai bureau and agencies)

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