Rural Development Minister Birender Singh has said that the ruling NDA alliance has given a political answer to the Congress on the land bill by leaving it to states to make changes to the 2013 Act for acquiring land for industry while Congress state governments, if they want, can let the consent clause in the law enacted by the previous UPA government remain.
He said he was sure that Congress state governments will work to change the consent law as the “Congress can’t afford that in states ruled by them, there is no development”.
Birender Singh, 69, accused the Congress of a U-turn on the land bill and said its stance on the legislation brought by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was guided by political considerations.
“Congress took a stand on political lines and not in the interest of county and the farmers. And our political answer is that the matter rests with states and they are competent to enact their own legislation on acquiring land because this is on the concurrent list. If Congress ruled states still want to see that the consent clause should remain, let them continue with that,” Singh told IANS in an interview.
“(Their) real face will come out (before the people). How how long will they be able to work by keeping the consent clause? I know you would see in the times to come that (on) this most contentious issue, they would be coming with legislation that it should be withdrawn,” he added.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced last month that the government will allow the ordinance on the land bill to lapse. The ordinance lapsed on August 31 and the the 2013 land Act has again come into force.
The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (LARR Act), 2013 requires the consent of 80 percent of land owners for private projects and the consent of 70 percent of land owners for public private partnership projects. It also provides for assessing the social impact of acquisition.
The Modi government, in its new land bill, had provided for exemption from consent and social impact assessment in five categories but the Bharatiya Janata Party subsequently changed its position in the joint parliamentary committee which is examining the legislation.
Birender Singh said the state governments can decide on exemptions from consent and social impact assessment in any of the five areas, including projects for national security, rural infrastructure, affordable housing, industrial corridors and infrastructure projects where land ownership is with the government.
He denied that the BJP had changed its position on the land bill in view of the upcoming Bihar assembly elections, where the Congress and some other opposition parties were keen to make it a big election issue. The Congress has vociferously opposed changes to the 2013 land Act and had launched several agitations on the issue.
“The issue is only related to politics. It is to do with some NGOs. A politial party thinks that farmers are such a large constituency, let us do politics on that. We said do it. Let your own states make their laws,” he said.
Singh, who joined BJP last year after being in the Congress for several decades, said the government felt that procedure laid down for acquisition under the 2013 Act was protracted and there should be a provision which can make it easy and speed up the proceedings.
He said states would want that the procedure is simplified.
“There may be different conditions, let them (the states) come out with their legislation according to their own circumstances and if it is in consonance with the central act, we will certainly urge the president to give his consent,” Singh said.
Asked if the Congress states will bring changes in the 2013 Act, he replied: “Yes.” “The Congress can’t afford that in states ruled by them, there is no development,” he added.
Asked if the government stance to leave it to states to make changes to land act will expose the Congress, he said: “It will expose everybody who opposed (the NDA bill).”
He said the government had issued an executive order to extend benefits of compensation, relief and rehabilitation to land acquired under 13 central Acts as the ordinance had lapsed. These 13 Acts had to included in the 2013 land law within a year of its coming into force.
Singh, the grandson of Sir Chhotu Ram who was a prominent pre-partition politician and a champion of interests of farmers, said his predecessor Nitin Gadkari had convened a meeting last June year and almost all states had requested changes in the land act as it will be difficult for them to acquire land.
“Most of the states also raised this question that the period involved is very lengthy and if everything is followed strictly it will take 59 months minimum for any acquisition. So on that basis we brought that legislation,” he said.
He said the Congress lost assembly elections in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand after which it “had a different posture and different arguments”.
“So, the U-turn is not from us, backtracking in not from us. It is the Congress which has backtracked.”
He said the government accepted suggestion to form joint committee of two houses of parliament to examine the new land bill as a way out of logjam. The new land bill could not be passed in the Rajya Sabha where the government lacks a majority.
The committee, which was expected to give its report during the July-August monsoon session, is likely to give it in during the the November-December winter session.