NEW DELHI -- Failing to clear the Land Acquisition Bill in the Parliament, the Union Cabinet decided to issue the land ordinance again on Saturday. This is the third time since it was first promulgated in December last year. The Bharatiya Janata Party wants to bring in amendments to the 2013 Act, which was introduced by the previous UPA government.
The cabinet meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, recommended the re-promulgation to replace the existing ordinance. However, it needs President Pranab Mukherjee's signature before it can come into effect again.
"The land ordinance has been cleared again by the cabinet to maintain continuity and we will ensure that farmers don't face hardship on compensation," cabinet minister Ravishankar Prasad told reporters after the meeting, reported Reuters.
Interestingly, main opposition to the amended act stems from its perception of being "anti-farmer, anti-poor" — a view shared by opposition parties and even some of BJP's allies. The amended law would make it much easier to acquire large plots of farmland for future projects. The law it seeks to replace requires consent from 80 percent of landowners before land can be acquired. The amendments have decreased the requirement for the consent clause, and various opposition members have pointed out flaws and loopholes in the act proposed by the BJP, which would make it easier for corporates and private interests to acquire land.
The BJP has been unsuccessful to pass the amended law in the upper house of the Parliament, the Rajya Sabha, as it does not have enjoy a majority there. Yesterday, a joint parliamentary committee met for the first time to examine compensation clauses and resettlement of farmers. BJP had agreed to refer it to the committee during the recently-concluded Parliament session.
The joint committee meeting yesterday was attended by several members of the opposition, who raised questions over the rationale of the government changing provisions of the 2013 land law.
Expressing dissatisfaction over the government's arguments in favour of the bill, the members had demanded a "composite" inter-ministerial reply on the issue.
At the meeting, the Rural Development Ministry and Legislative department in the Law Ministry had made a presentation to members on the amendments made to the The Right To Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.
As the officials of the two ministries explained the amendments, members from the Opposition parties including Congress, BJD, TMC and the Left had raised questions over the rationale of doing away with the consent clause while acquiring land.
While the 2013 law required that the consent of 80 per cent of land owners was obtained for private projects and that the consent of 70 per cent of land owners be obtained for PPP projects, the present bill exempts the five categories from this provision of the Act.
These categories include defence, rural infrastructure, affordable housing, industrial corridors and infrastructure projects including public private partnership (PPP) projects where the government owns the land.
The 2013 Act also required that a social impact assessment be conducted to identify affected families and calculate the social impact when land is acquired. This provision has been done away with.
(with inputs from PTI and Reuters)
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