NEW DELHI: The government today asserted that the decision not to repromulgate the land ordinance was "no setback" for it and rejected Congress's charge of a "U-turn" on the issue.
With Prime Minister Narendra Modi under attack over the land ordinance issue, BJP fielded two senior ministers to take on the Opposition.
Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who addressed the media along with Rural Development Minister Chaudhary Birender Singh, also sought to allay apprehensions that the development agenda of the Narendra Modi government will be heavily hit with the 2013 land law restored even as she conceded that the process of land acquisition will definitely be delayed due to it.
She also expressed confidence that this will have no impact on the passage of GST saying, "We hope that good sense prevails on Congress" reminding it that despite its campaign against land bill, BJP has won in civic bodies polls in rural parts of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh."
"There is no setback. It is not going to affect our commitment for reform. Government is committed to the development, to create jobs... Reforms are required. That is why we have done that (brought the ordinance). If anybody has taken a U turn, it is the Congress," Sitharaman said.
According to her, the government finally decided not to repromulgate the ordinance and accept suggestions for revisiting changes in 2015 land bill to break the "political stalemate" over the issue.
"Unfortunately yes," was her remark when she asked whether the restoration of 2013 law will again delay the process of land acquisition thereby slowing the pace of industrialisation. The Commerce Minister also hoped that the states, which will not formulate land laws in tune with their needs, will take both -- the interests of the farmers as well as industrial development.
Singh said the government had brought the ordinance last December as a large number of states including those by Congress had demanded changes in the 2013 law saying acquisition was not possible under it. "But soon after losing elections, they took a U turn and saying they will fight against it. Now since it has been left to states to come out with their own land bills in tune with their needs, it has to be seen now whether the Congress-ruled states retain the provisions for taking consent of farmers and social impact assessment. Now they will be exposed," Singh told reporters at the BJP headquarters here.
Deciding to to avoid repeated confrontation with the opposition over the land ordinance, Modi yesterday announced government will not be promulgating it for the fourth time as his rivals claimed credit for making it "bow down" on the contentious issue.
Asked whether not bringing the ordinance for the fourth time makes it clear that the Modi government is back to UPA's land law and there will be no changes in future, Rural Development Minister Singh said, "That the ordinance has lapsed does not mean that nothing will happen again.
"If there is some recommendation with consensus by the Joint Committee of Parliament, something new can happen. We have to see what report the Joint Committee gives."
The panel headed by S S Ahluwalia has now decided to submit its report only in Winter Session by which the Assembly polls in Bihar will be over. Singh countered the Opposition claim that it forced the government to "bow down" on the matter saying the land bill was "never a prestige issue" for government and it was always ready to accept any suggestion in the interest of farmers.
"Congress had passed the 2013 land law to take political mileage ahead of 2014 Lok Sabha polls and failed. Its chief ministers then demanded changes in the law. But they took a U turn soon after," he claimed. "After being reduced to 44 members in Lok Sabha, they felt it was an opportunity to gain some ground by painting NDA bill as anti-farmer and hence began demanding to reintroduce the same provisions, which they were opposing," he said.
To a question on whether the government order on August 28 to include 13 central Acts under the ambit of 2013 land law is legally tenable, Singh said, "That is not to be assessed by us or Congress. That is to be judged by the courts." Rejecting the charge of political compulsion of Bihar polls behind the reason for Centre's decision to drop the idea of repromulgating the land ordinance for the fourth time, Sitharaman insisted, "The central government did not succumb to any populist pressure."
Both Singh and Sitharaman said NDA government wanted to speed up land acquisition process as many states felt the need for it and then did its maximum to take people on board when there was a stalemate over it. "Certainly we did not want the stalemate to continue. We had made all efforts. Secondly if the states felt they can do it, we thought it was a very reasonable and legitimate route," Sitharaman said.
She said that the "misinformation campaign of Congress" in painting the government anti-farmer did not succeed in civic bodies polls as "people at the ground level understood this politics".