New Delhi: The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s last ditch attempts to push the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2009, in the ongoing Parliament session failed as railway minister and Trinamool Congress party leader Mamata Banerjee did not relent in her opposition to the legislation.
Banerjee was willing to sign on only if the proposed legislation was amended to incorporate her suggestions, including a token role for the government in land acquisition.
The move would be a setback to efforts to streamline land acquisitions to facilitate industrial projects. It had become a contentious issue, especially after the high-profile confrontation that ensued over the acquisition of farm land in Singur in West Bengal to establish a Tata Motors Ltd factory.
Leader’s prerogative: Mamata Banerjee claims the Bill in its present form will not benefit small farmers; she wants four amendments. Rajkumar / Mint
Although a fresh Bill to amend the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 was distributed among members of Parliament (MPs) on Thursday morning, heated verbal exchanges took place between Congress party leaders and Banerjee on the sidelines of Parliament. The government was keen on introducing the Bill in the current session, which ends on Friday.
The Bill that was distributed is the same that was passed in the Lok Sabha in February in the last session of 14th Lok Sabha, inviting criticism from the Left, as well as the opposition as it was done in a hurry and in the absence of the opposition National Democratic Alliance. It could not be passed in the Rajya Sabha and lapsed once the tenure of 14th Lok Sabha ended in May.
Congress leaders said UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi would take the final call on the Bill.
However, on Thursday, Banerjee reiterated her objections over the Bill in front of Gandhi during a sharp exchange with senior Congress MPs. According to a Congress leader, who did not want to be identified, Banerjee had words with finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, who expressed his anger over Banerjee’s party colleague Sisir Adhikari, junior minister for rural development, making public his reservations against the Bill.
Banerjee and her party claimed the present form of the Bill will not benefit small farmers and want four amendments.
They are demanding that the new legislation should include a buyback provision under which the farmers can repurchase their land if the proposed industry does not use the land within the given time, no role for the government in land acquisition for private industrial projects, no forcible acquisition of land and exclusion of all farm lands.
The fresh Bill does not have any of these provisions. Moreover, it allows state governments to acquire 30% land if the private firms buy the rest. Two Congress leaders said that Gandhi suggested to Banerjee that the government can bring down the ratio to 85:15. The Trinamool Congress has not yet given its consent.
Banerjee had threatened to walk out of a cabinet meeting on 23 July over the Bill. While Congress ministers such as C.P. Joshi and Kapil Sibal insisted that the Bill should be passed in the budget session, saying that the changes could be incorporated before the passage, Banerjee said she could not support the Bill.
The ministers had pointed out that the Bill could be referred to a standing committee.
The Trinamool Congress, a crucial ally of the Congress in the UPA, has 19 members in the Lok Sabha. Both the Congress and Trinamool Congress are expected to fiercely fight the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front in the West Bengal assembly election expected to take place in 2011. The Left Front has been ruling the state for at least three decades.
Banerjee, who had broken away from Congress and formed the Trinamool Congress in 1997 but fought the recent Lok Sabha election together, had been in the forefront of the agitation against the land acquisition policies of the West Bengal government.