New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government’s efforts to arrive at a consensus on the controversial 2015 land acquisition bill suffered a setback on Tuesday with a group affiliated to the party’s ideological mentor expressing reservations over it.

The Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), expressed its concern while testifying before a joint parliamentary committee constituted to forge consensus on several disputed clauses in the bill, including one that does away with the need to seek the consent of farmers whose land is being acquired.

Ashwani Mahajan, national convenor of the SJM, declined to divulge what he told the parliamentary panel comprising 20 Lok Sabha MPs and 10 Rajya Sabha MPs, but explained what he said was the group’s consistent position on the bill.

“There are certain clauses in the new bill that we have been opposing. The new bill says that in the case of defence, affordable housing and industrial corridors, land can be acquired without consent and without conducting social impact assessment."

“In the case of defence, we feel that one can do away with social impact assessment and consent of farmers. This is because defence is an issue of national security. But in other cases, one has to see the impact on livelihood of farmers. Consent should be taken from a majority of the farmers" in the area where land is proposed to be acquired, he said.

The committee was formed after the amended land acquisition law—the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill, 2015—faced strong resistance from the opposition. The BJP-led government brought in the bill as the previous law was seen as inhibiting industrial development by making land acquisition difficult.

The 2013 law, which replaced an earlier law drawn up in 1894, required that those acquiring agricultural land for private purposes get the consent of 80% of farmers or land owners and those acquiring land for public-private partnerships get the consent of 70% of the land owners. It also required each land acquisition project to be accompanied by a social impact assessment, a rule that industry claimed was arduous.

An MP, who is among the 30 on the parliamentary panel, confirmed that the SJM had expressed “strong reservations" over the bill.

According to Mahajan, acquisition of multi-crop land and irrigated land should be avoided for non-farm purposes as food security is important in India, with a population of more than 1.2 billion. “Use of land should be judicious as we have to manage diverse demands," he said.

Unused land that has been acquired should also be returned, he said, adding that the government should set a time-frame for returning the unused land.

The SJM is one of several RSS-affiliated groups that have voiced concern over the 2015 land bill, the others include the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh.

So far, the parliamentary panel has not been able to arrive at a consensus with opposition parties who reject the bill.

On Monday, an MP said that the panel sought a week’s extension of the deadline for preparing its report. The committee had earlier been mandated to submit its report on the first day of the monsoon session beginning 21 July. One reason for seeking the extension is that the panel is yet to receive all of the inputs sought from state chief secretaries.

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