Modi declares readiness to accept any suggestions to benefit farmers in pending land bill
New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday said the land ordinance, aimed at making it easier for companies to acquire agricultural land, will not be reissued on Monday. The decision follows months of protests by opposition parties demanding that the government withdraw the executive order allowing companies to obtain land without the owner’s consent in some cases.
The ordinance, first issued in December and repromulgated thrice, is set to lapse on Monday.
“I have decided that it should be allowed to expire. It means restoration of the situation that prevailed before my government took over," the Prime Minister said in his monthly radio address Mann Ki Baat on Sunday, insisting that the voice of farmers mattered the most to him.
Modi’s statement brings to a close over a year’s political wrangling on the land acquisition law, which was sought to be amended by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government on the grounds that its provisions on seeking consent and social impact assessment were hampering industrial growth.
Cleared by the Lok Sabha, the bill was stuck in the Rajya Sabha, where the ruling BJP and its allies are in a minority. Although many business leaders were reconciled to the bill’s demise, Modi’s announcement constituted a major setback to a government that had made amendments to the land acquisition law a cornerstone of its reforms agenda. The decision comes ahead of the Bihar assembly elections.
The bill is currently being scrutinised by a joint committee of Parliament, to which it was referred by Rajya Sabha during the budget session, following strong opposition by several parties.
The bill sparked protest demonstrations by farmers and opposition parties across the country and, according to many observers, boosted the political fortunes of the Congress party after its near-decimation in the 2014 general election.
On Sunday, the matter came up at the opposition’s Swabhimaan Rally in Patna, jointly organized by the Congress party, the Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).
“This is an anti-farmer government which wants to take over the land of the government and distribute it among some of its corporate friends. We fought this battle in Parliament and the government had to step down on it," Congress president Sonia Gandhi said in Patna, referring to the government’s decision,
Bihar chief minister and JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar also responded to the development in the rally, saying: “The government had to stoop down on the day of the Swabhimaan Rally. We raised it in Parliament, we spoke against it and the people were against it. Eventually, tired of everything, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had to step down... They tried to weaken the land legislation, people objected to it and so did we."
The change comes ahead of assembly elections in Bihar, where the RJD and the JD(U) have buried their differences to challenge the BJP and forged a grand alliance with the Congress party.
With the ordinance no longer in effect, Modi said on Sunday that he would implement rules to benefit farmers for 13 types of land transactions that were exempt under the original 2013 law. These include acquiring land for national highways, metro rails, atomic energy plants, mines, petroleum and mineral pipelines.
“Brothers and sisters, you should neither be confused or frightened," Modi said. “I don’t want to allow anyone to confuse or terrorize the farmer."
Modi’s decision was taken against the backdrop of the recommendation of NITI Aayog that the matter of enacting a law on land acquisition should be left to the state governments, since the subject is on the Concurrent List, the Press Trust of India news agency cited unidentified highly placed people as saying.
In his radio address, Modi insisted that the voice of farmers matters the most to his government. “The government has an open mind on the land acquisition Bill, about which there is a lot of controversy. I have said it again and again that I am ready to accept any suggestion for the benefit of farmers." Modi said.
He maintained that suggestions to “improve" the land Act of 2013 had come from states that wanted the law to be freed from the “clutches of bureaucracy" and ensure development of villages and welfare of farmers by providing irrigation canals, electric poles for electricity, roads, houses and help poor villagers get work.
However, after the government introduced the land bill, “a lot of misapprehensions were created, so much fear was instilled among the farmers. The farmers should neither have doubts nor any fear and I will not give any such opportunity to anybody... Now there is no cause for any doubt and if anybody tries to create fear, you should not be scared," he said.
Modi referred to the government’s decision a few days back to notify rules on 13 aspects of land acquisition for the relief of farmers. “The matter got complicated because of the controversies," he said, adding that since the ordinance is being allowed to expire, the government notified the rules which will take effect immediately to address this “incomplete work".
“We are doing this so that the farmers do not stand to lose, including financially," he said. “I want to assure the farmers that for us, ‘jai jawan, jai kisan’ is not just a slogan but our ‘mantra’. That is why I announced creation of a ministry for farmers’ welfare during my Independence Day address," he said.
People familiar with the development said these 13 points were not new but formed part of the 2013 Act. Meant for “removal of difficulty" in land acquisition for certain government works, these could have lapsed along with the ordinance if not notified, they said. With the notification of rules, farmers will get compensation for land acquired as per the existing Act of 2013, the people added.
“We are happy and proud that finally the politics of obstinacy, politics of non-accommodation has ended and largely in substance, the land acquisition bill as the Congress has passed has been restored," Abhishek Manu Singhvi, a spokesperson for the Congress party told reporters.
“To remind you that this is exactly the position in the last eight months, the country has lost time, stakeholders have lost time...I am asking myself why some accommodation could not be showed (earlier). The politics of ego does not help to serve national interest."