Govt to re-promulgate land bill ordinance with 9 amendments
New Delhi: Rural development minister Chaudhary Birender Singh on Wednesday said that the nine amendments in the new land acquisition bill passed by the Lok Sabha last month will be part of the ordinance expected to be re-promulgated before Saturday.
Singh also expressed the hope that the bitterly opposed bill would be passed by the Rajya Sabha, where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government does not have a majority to push through the draft law.
“There were nine amendments and now those amendments are part of the bill which was passed by the Lok Sabha. So…that will form part of the ordinance,” said Singh, who was in Haryana to take stock of some of his ministry’s ongoing schemes.
The amendments referred to by the minister were those he introduced on 10 March, which include provisions for mandatory employment for at least one member from each family displaced by land acquisition; ensuring that the land acquired is the bare minimum required for a project; and undertaking a survey of the nation’s wastelands.
When asked if the government was working on adding to these nine amendments to soften pressure from opposition parties, Singh pointed out that several bills, including one raising the foreign investment cap in the insurance sector and another that provides the legal framework for the auction of coal blocks, were passed last month by the Rajya Sabha, where the opposition parties have a majority.
The ruling National Democratic Alliance has a commanding majority in the 543-member Lok Sabha with 334 seats, but is in a minority in the 245-seat Rajya Sabha, where it has just 57 members.
Singh had introduced the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill, 2015, in the Lok Sabha on 9 March.
It replaced an ordinance issued on 29 December to soften some of the restrictive provisions in the original law, shepherded by the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government and passed by Parliament in 2013. That law was seen by many state governments and industry representatives as impeding business and development projects.
But the new bill has raised the opposition’s hackles as it does away with a clause that mandates securing the consent of 80% of farmers for private acquisitions and 70% for public-private partnerships. It also does away with a clause that calls for a social-impact study involving public hearings.
Singh said that the re-promulgation of the ordinance would happen before 4 April. The ordinance lapses on 5 April as the bill which replaced it has not been cleared by both houses of Parliament. Re-promulgating the ordinance is “only to continue the effectiveness of the ordinance already in place”, the minister said.
When asked if the government was considering re-introducing the consent clause but lowering the level of consent to 50%-60% of affected farmers, Singh said that this was one of the ideas being discussed. He also accused the Congress party of playing politics by sticking to the demands of reinstating the consent and other clauses that were part of the 2013 law.
Meanwhile, the Congress on Wednesday responded to Union transport minister Nitin Gadkari’s letter on the land acquisition bill to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and said that the BJP-led government was incompetent in its administration and ignorant of the bill that it is seeking to amend.
A strongly worded four-page response, written by senior Congress leader and former rural development minister Jairam Ramesh, made a point-by-point rebuttal on the nine points that Gadkari had made in a letter to Gandhi on Monday.
“Your resort to political posturing does not change the fact that the law was designed to balance genuine public interest against arbitrary acquisitions. If you agree with the principle of limited acquisition (as we did) then why remove the safeguards? Should you not instead strengthen it?” Ramesh wrote in the letter addressed to Gadkari.
The correspondence between Gadkari and Gandhi began when the former wrote to the Congress president, among other political leaders, on 19 March, inviting her to debate the land bill. Gandhi responded on 27 March saying her party would not support any law which hurts farmers, to which Gadkari responded on 30 March, alleging that she was favouring populism over development. Ramesh’s letter on Wednesday was a response to Gadkari’s 30 March letter.
Anuja contributed to this report.