In clear indications that the government may make a U-turn on the contentious land acquisition law, a Parliamentary committee on Monday approved changes in the Modi government's bill including on the consent clause, that will restore the UPA law.
The way for possible climb down by the government was facilitated by BJP members moving amendments in the Joint Committee of Parliament seeking to bring back key provisions of UPA's land law including on the consent clause and social impact assessment by dropping the changes brought by Modi Government in December last year and subsequently revalidated by Ordinance thrice.
Sources said all the 11 BJP members in the 30-member panel today moved amendments seeking withdrawal of the terminology "private entity", which was "private company" in the 2013 law passed during the UPA regime.
Others in the Committee belong to Congress (5), Trinamool Congress (2), Janata Dal United, Samajwadi Party, BJD, Shiv Sena, NCP, BSP, TRS, LJP, CPI-M and TDP (all one each).
Trinamool Congress members Derek 'O Brien and Kalyan Banerjee walked out of the meeting stating that the amendments were circulated this morning and they had little time to study.
The government appears to have changed its strategy in view of the fact that assembly elections in the agrarian state of Bihar are due in a short time and the ruling party may be averse to being seen as "anti-farmer", a charge Opposition had been making against the BJP.
Apart from Congress, which wanted restoration of UPA's 2013 Act, parties like Left, SP, JDU, BSP, BJD were also opposing the amendments tooth and nail.
FAULTLINES IN NDA
Faultlines in NDA on the Land Bill were also visible with three of BJP's allies--Shiv Sena, SAD and Swabhimani Paksha --red-flagging a number of provisions of the bill before the panel and seeking restoration of the consent and social impact assessment clauses.
Saffron affiliates including Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, Bhartiya Kisan Sangh, Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh and Akhil Bhartiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram have also opposed the bill and demanded restoration of the consent clause and social impact assessment.
Out of 672 representations that were made before the panel, 670 opposed the amendments being brought by the government in the land bill particularly changes in consent clause and social impact survey.
The LARR Act, 2013 stated that if an offence is committed by the government, the head of the department would be deemed guilty unless he could show that the offence was committed without his knowledge, or that he had exercised due diligence to prevent the commission of the offence.
The NDA bill sought to replace this provision and stated that if an offence was committed by a government official, he cannot be prosecuted without the prior sanction of the government.
With BJP retracting from its previous position, there is likelihood that the panel headed by BJP MP S S Ahluwalia will come out with a consensus report by August 7.
'IT'S AS GOOD AS OUR OWN ACT OF 2013'
"It's as good as our own Act of 2013," a Congress member of the committee said after the meeting expressing total agreement with the amendments moved by the ruling BJP.
Out of the total 15 amendments in the NDA bill, nine were substantial in nature that have been opposed by Congress and a number of Opposition parties.
Out of these nine six including the provisions dealing with consent clause, social impact assessment, replacing the term private company with private entity were discussed today and a consensus has emerged on them, Congress members claimed.
The LARR Act, 2013 required that the consent of 80 per cent of land owners is obtained for private projects and that the consent of 70 per cent of land owners be obtained for PPP projects.
Asked if the government is going to back to the original Land Bill 2013, senior minister M Venkaiah Naidu said that when Parliament is in session, one is not supposed to make any policy statements and secondly, the issue has been referred to a joint committee whose meetings are going on.
"As a Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, I cannot violate the protocol and say something outside. The government is willing to go by any meaningful suggestion and if there is a way to arrive at a broad consensus, the government is willing," he said.
He said that the government has been willing to work an extra mile to meet the demands of the opposition even in the case of GST bill, which was approved unanimously by the Lok Sabha and where "we agreed to the opposition demand to refer it to the select committee".
He noted that with regard to the land bill which was approved by the Lok Sabha with over whelming majority, the government is keen but as a mark of respect to the opposition, their wish "we referred it to the joint committee".
"This all show the commitment of the give and take approach of the government vis a vis the opposition but they have been uncharitable, they have been obstructionist, they have been raising slogans on Prime Minister and then bringing placards demeaning the stature of the PM. This is not acceptable in a democracy," he said.