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Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

NDA’s land bill push runs aground

Govt's efforts may not pay off, as neither the Congress nor the Janata Parivar are willing to play along

New Delhi: The National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA’s) efforts to achieve a political consensus on the new land acquisition and rehabilitation bill may come to nought, with neither the Congress nor the constituents of the new Janata Parivar willing to play along.

The bill has come to symbolize different things to different people— the opposition sees it as one indication of the government’s intent to ride roughshod over the legislative process; farmers, victims of an agrarian crisis sweeping the country, see it as anti-farmer and pro-business; and business sees it as another way in which the Narendra Modi-led government has let it down after promising a lot.

For the government itself, getting the bill through is as much a measure of its ability to manage the house as it is a reflection of its reformist credentials.

An additional cause of worry for the government will be that its spiritual parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and several bodies affiliated to the RSS, including the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) and Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) have vocally opposed some clauses in the bill.

“We are opposed to this version of the bill and our demand is that several amendments in it need to be reviewed. The government has not shown any signs of compromise till now and if the changes are not brought in, it will be difficult for us to support this bill," a senior Congress leader said on conditions of anonymity.

The Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation, and Resettlement Act of 2013 was passed by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. The law was meant to make it easier for industry (and others developing projects) to acquire land even while ensuring that the original owners of the land were compensated adequately and fairly. The law passed by the UPA was criticized by industry for being too restrictive.

In response, the NDA, which swept to power in May 2014 on a pro-growth platform, amended some sections, increasing the kind of projects that will not need the mandated consent from 80% of the people whose land was being acquired or have to conduct a social impact assessment.

The Congress led the opposition to the new bill—which the NDA pushed through as an ordinance—in the Rajya Sabha and eventually managed to have it referred to a joint committee of Parliament.

The lack of a consensus between parties could mean options are running out for the government.

Finance minister Arun Jaitley, participating in an ongoing road show in the US, indicated that if required, the government would convene a joint session of Parliament to obtain approval for the new land acquisition bill.

The biggest hurdle for the government is in the Rajya Sabha, where it is in a minority and a united opposition has the support of 134 out of the 245 MPs in the upper House. Although the government can get the crucial bill passed in the Lok Sabha, the lack of support from the opposition could derail the government’s plans for the second consecutive session of Parliament.

Passage of the land acquisition bill is key to the success of the government’s ‘Make In India’ programme, which is aimed at encouraging manufacturing activities in the country, said D.K. Srivastava, chief policy adviser at consulting firm EY India.

“As long as government insists on the current provisions in the bill, the opposition is unlikely to relent. The Rajya Sabha, where the government is in a minority, is neither going to neither clear nor reject the bill, ruling out the possibility of a joint session. We seem to be in for a long impasse," he added.

The NDA has only 61 MPs in the Rajya Sabha. The government is also under pressure from its own allies. Shiromani Akali Dal leaders have insisted that the government speak to farmers to get their support while the Shiv Sena has made it clear that it will vote against the bill when it is taken up in Parliament.

Senior leaders of the RSS said they are trying to broker a consensus among the Sangh constituents. However, they also maintained that BKS, BMS and SJM are independent organizations that have to protect the rights of the social segments they represent.

Senior leaders of the Janata Parivar point out that since most of the opposition parties are against the bill, the government’s efforts to amend it will not be successful.

“We do not believe that this government can do anything good for the farmers. When there are so many differences within the affiliates of the Sangh Parivar, there is no reason for the government to look at us for support. We are vehemently against it. We cannot allow it. We had taken up this issue in the earlier Parliament session and will do it in monsoon session," said a senior leader of the Janata Parivar who asked not to be identified.

Ramesh Dikshit, a Lucknow-based political analyst, said politically the government could face problems if it is not able to reach a consensus with all parties on the land acquisition bill.

“It will be difficult for them to pass this legislation in the Parliament. There are voices of dissent within BJP- and RSS-affiliated organizations, too, on the bill, and that too is a problem, coupled with the fact that their ordinance route has been criticized by the opposition," Dikshit said.

Asit Ranjan Mishra contributed to this story.

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