New Delhi: Amid growing criticism, finance minister Arun Jaitley on Sunday defended the land acquisition ordinance saying amendments to the law will balance national development requirements with the need to compensate land owners and questioned states who are opposing the changes.

“The amendment...balances the developmental needs of India, particularly rural India, while still providing enhanced compensation to the land owners," Jaitley wrote on his Facebook page.

Questioning political parties and states opposing the ordinance, Jaitley said: “Will the state governments ruled by political parties, publicly declare that they will not use the law which provides for enhanced compensation in the case of exempted acts and acquisition process which balances the developmental needs of society, particularly those of poor, weaker sections, rural India along with defence requirements of the country?"

The Union cabinet on 29 December used its executive powers to make it easier to acquire land in five key sectors— security, defence, infrastructure, power and affordable housing— while leaving the level of compensation unchanged.

The ordinance means projects in areas such as defence, rural electrification, housing for the poor and industrial corridors would not require the approval of 80% of affected landowners. Nor would they need a social impact study involving public hearings, as prescribed in the law that is being amended—the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. This was formulated and passed by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government.

Though the industry hailed the ordinance, the Trinamool Congress, Congress, Janata Dal (United) and Left parties said it will increase land grabbing.

The “amendment ordinance is based on extensive consultations where state government of most political parties supported these changes. Those who are opposed to it can certainly mandate their party’s state governments not to use the provisions of the ordinance. History will judge how these states will lose out in the era of competitive federalism," Jaitley wrote. “Historically, the power to acquire the land is a sovereign power."

While a larger public interest always prevails over private interest, the land owner who loses the land has to be more than adequately compensated, Jaitley wrote. “A highly complicated process of acquisition which renders it difficult or almost impossible to acquire land can hurt India’s development. When the 1894 law is amended in the 21st century, it must provide for a 21st century compensation and cater to the developmental needs of the 21st century. It cannot completely ignore the developmental needs of the society and mandate that India does not grow." Jaitley said industrial corridors “which run for a narrow distance along with various highways, give a fillip to the entire development of those rural areas".

K.C. Tyagi, a member of Rajya Sabha belonging to the Janata Dal (United), said his party’s government in Bihar will oppose the ordinance as it is anti-poor and anti-farmer.

“By coming under the pressure of corporate houses, this government has brought an ordinance that will help land grabbing," Tyagi said on Sunday. He said the move has united the opposition —from the Left to TMC, JD (U), Samajwadi Party, Congress and others.

“We are not against land for defence, highways, educational institutes or hospitals but instead of taking all parties into confidence, the government is pushing Ordinance Raj. This is dangerous... you sacrifice poor for corporate houses," Tyagi said.

Jaitley said the 2013 Act had some 50 “drafting errors" and some are being “cured through this ordinance". He said the 2013 Act mandates that unused land has to be returned five years after the acquisition. “The earlier provision was clearly defective. Creation of smart cities, townships, industrial corridors, business centres, defence projects, cantonments, ports, nuclear installations, building of highways, irrigation projects, dams have a long gestation period. They cannot be completed in five years. If the earlier provision is to be effected, we would be a nation of incomplete projects on account of defective legislative drafting."

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