It is unfortunate that the uncertainty on the Land Acquisition Bill continues to divide the polity. The boycott of the meeting of chief ministers organised by Niti Aayog by most non-BJP chief ministers once again highlights the lack of consensus on the issue. Even those who attended the meeting, like the chief ministers of Bihar, Tripura and Delhi, do not approve of the Modi government’s land policy. Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, a BJP ally, has used the forum to express his differing opinion that is very similar to that of the non-BJP leaders. Some chief ministers like those of West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh might not have attended the meeting because of other engagements but they also do not accept the Central legislation.
At the root of the problem is the government’s decision to amend the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, enacted by the UPA regime. The popular perception is that the government has watered down the Act to make it easier for the government to acquire land without even the consent of the farmers or the owners of the land. There was a provision in the law that allowed the community to have a say in the acquisition of land. Unfortunately, the government’s explanation that the law had to be amended to facilitate easier acquisition of land does not seem to have carried conviction with the Opposition. It believes that the ordinance the government promulgated to amend the law was guided by its desire to satisfy the corporates. It is this difference in their viewpoints that is primarily responsible for the political logjam.
The government has a point that development, particularly the Make in India programme, would not be possible if land acquisition is problematic. That farmers’ interest needs to be protected cannot be overemphasised. For the smooth functioning of Parliament, it is necessary that the political deadlock is ended. True, the boycott of the meeting may not be praiseworthy but it also underscores the need for the Centre and the states to narrow down their differences. The Centre has asked the states to prepare their own land acquisition Bills, which would be given Presidential assent. If the deadlock over the issue cannot be resolved quickly, every state should be allowed to have its own land acquisition policy.