As the Lok Sabha takes the controversial Land Acquisition Bill for a debate on Monday, the NDA managers are keeping their fingers crossed with the entire opposition and some of its allies raising strong objections to the new amendments saying the new bill is against the interest of farmers. Though the bill may get passed in the lower house, the government will find it difficult to sail through the tough test in Rajya Sabha where the NDA is a minority. The bill has become an apple of discord at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his team are pitching hard for a platform for growth based on industrialization.
What the controversy about
Until 2013, the land acquisition in India was governed by The Land Acquisition Act 1984. In 2013, the UPA government passed the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Act to repeal the 19th century act. The UPA Act was aimed at ensuring the land is acquired strictly for public welfare projects and land owners are adequately compensated and rehabilitated. The protests and outrage began after the Modi government decided to brought in following amendments to the RFCTLARR Act .
1. Removal of ‘consent’ clause: As per the UPA law, land could be acquired only with approval of 70% of land owners for PPP projects and 80% for private entities. However, the amendment, brought in by the NDA removed this provision of ‘consent’ for acquiring lands for five purposes – Industrial corridors, Public Private Partnership projects, Rural Infrastructure, Affordable housing and Defence. This has drawn much of the criticism not only from political circle but also from activists like Anna Hazare who has launched a mass protest against the bill.
2. Return of unutilized land: According to the Act 2013, if the land remains unutilised for five years, then it needs to be returned to the owner. But according to the ordinance promulgated by the NDA government, the period after which unutilised land needs to be returned will be five years, or any period specified at the time of setting up the project.
3. According to the 2013 Act, land can be acquired by any private company. But according the recent ordinance, land can be acquired by any private entity.
4. As per the new law, if any government official commits an offence during the process of acquisition, he/she cannot be prosecuted without prior sanction from the government.
5. The amendments propose to include 13 legislations that are currently exempted under the purview of the Act in the compensation, rehabilitation and resettlement provisions. This is, however, seen as a pro-farmer move as there was no uniform central policy of rehabilitation and resettlement.
Why NDA brought the amendments
Ever since this government came to power, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been vigorously campaigning for the ‘Make in India’ vision which aims to boost the domestic manufacturing. Though Modi is wooing the foreign companies to invest in India, land acquisition is a major problem for these firms with many of them dropping their investment plan over the past few years.
Though there are suggestions from some corners that the industrial enterprises should purchase land directly from farmers, it doesn’t seem feasible in India as the records of land holding cannot be easily verified in the country. This may open the possibility of disputes after the purchase. However, the government mediation in the transfer of land has not proved fully successful to compensate and rehabilitate the displace people. The draft of the government’s National Policy for Rehabilitation states that a figure around 75% of the displaced people since 1951 are still awaiting rehabilitation.
According to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, the ordinances were aimed at speeding up development in five areas: development of industrial corridors, social infrastructure such as education, rural infrastructure such as roads and power, housing for the poor, and the country’s defense capabilities. The ordinance makes land acquisition easier in these areas by exempting them from several provisions of current law.
Politics over the bill
The Congress-led opposition parties are training their guns to corner the government when the bill comes for consideration in the parliament. Creating more trouble to the government, some of the NDA allies have also come against the bill.
Even though Parliamentary affairs minister Venkaiha Naidu expressed hope to garner the support of Shiv Sena, Akali Dal, Lok Jansakthi Party in the house, the Maharashtra ally has made it clear that it will strongly oppose the bill. The BJD has come up with a suggestion that it would support the bill if land owners whose land was sought to be acquired for commercial enterprises, public as well as private, were given a share in the profit.
Sensing the stiff opposition to the bill, government has set a reconciliatory note with Narendra Modi saying it is ready to review any amendments which are deemed as anti-farmer. Asserting that the land bill is not anti-farmer, Modi said, "The law that was passed by earlier government has no provision for allotment of land for schools, hospitals, houses, water and irrigation. I ask you whether you need all these facilities or not."
Media reports say that the government may make some changes in the amendments to get the opposition members on board. According to sources the government may bring back the 'consent clause', although most probably in a diluted form.
Future of the bill
If the government cannot get the bill passed in Rajya Sabha, it may call a joint session of the parliament. However, with its own allies opposing the bill, it will be tough for the government to get it passed in the joint session also. Though the NDA has 395 members out of the total 788 in both the houses, BJP alone has only 327 MPs, making the fate of the bill hang in balance.