New Delhi: A meeting of political parties failed to reach a consensus over the proposed land acquisition law, with the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party flagging its concern over how public purpose is defined in the draft legislation.
“It was decided that all political parties will send their written suggestions in the next four days,” parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath said on Tuesday. “Another meeting will be held on 18th (April) morning to discuss the issue raised by political parties.”
The Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill, which was introduced in September 2011, lays down rules for compensation for the land purchased for infrastructure and industrial projects and rehabilitation of those who are displaced. It is one of the key reform legislations proposed by the Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance government ahead of the 2014 general elections.
Land acquisition for industrial development is a contentious issue in India, where a majority of the people earn their livelihood from farming. Many big projects, such as South Korean steel maker Posco’s proposed $12 billion steel plant in Orissa, have been stymied because local residents are unwilling to give up their land.
“There are many concerns (on the proposed law). We have given 12 points to them in writing. But I think now, after we receive the suggestions from other political parties also and on 18th (April), we will get the response from the government,” said BJP’s Sushma Swaraj, leader of the opposition in Lok Sabha. “Maybe we reach our conclusion and the Bill is passed.”
The ruling coalition wants to get the proposed law approved in the ongoing session of Parliament that reconvenes on 22 April and concludes on 10 May. “I hope that the bill will be passed in this session,” rural development minister Jairam Ramesh said.
The Congress had called an all-party meeting on the proposed law last month, which too had failed to evolve a consensus.
The BJP on Tuesday suggested leasing out of land to developers instead of acquisition, Swaraj said, which will provide a farmer with a regular annual income while the land remains with him.
“If the land is not utilized for the purpose for which it was leased, it could be returned to the farmer,” Swaraj said, adding that her party was concerned over the definition of public purpose.
The Samajwadi Party, which runs the government in politically significant Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, objected to the poor rate of compensation and suggested giving jobs to young members of farmers’ families that are made to give up their land.
The party, which supports the ruling alliance from the outside, is in favour of passing the law at the earliest once its concerns are addressed, its leader Rewati Raman Singh said.
The political parties are bargaining to derive the maximum benefit from the proposed law, according to B.G. Verghese, visiting professor at New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research, a think tank.
“They are all bargaining to get the benefit out of it politically,” Verghese said. “Unless we have a more practical method of land acquisition, which benefits both those who are displaced and those acquiring it for projects, we will find ourselves increasingly in trouble.”
Although the cabinet approved of a new draft of the proposed legislation in December last year, it was stalled by opposition parties, who wanted it to be sent back to a parliamentary panel.
The national advisory council, led by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, was instrumental in drafting one of the earlier changes to the proposed legislation. Several of its suggestions are incorporated in the current draft.
PTI contributed to this story.