Resurgent Rahul, farmer’s suicide puts land bill on backburner

By Sreeparna Chakrabarty and Anjali Ojha,

New Delhi : A resurgent Rahul Gandhi and the suicide of a farmer at an AAP rally in the capital seem to have made the NDA government re-think its strategy on the land acquisition bill and put it on the backburner – at least for now.

Support TwoCircles

Desperately trying to fight the “anti-farmer” tag, the government, which went into a huddle soon after a farmer committed suicide at the April 22 rally of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, has decided to go ahead with the land bill only when the finance bills and other scheduled business of parliament are through.

It is also worried about the impact Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, who is just back after a 56-day self-imposed exile, is having. Rahul has made powerful speeches against the bill in parliament as well as at a rally.

“The ordinance will be there till August, we are not in a hurry,” a senior minister confided to IANS.

An ordinance has a life of six months or till the next parliament session. So the land acquisition ordinance, which was re-promulgated in April, would need to have been passed by the monsoon session before it lapses.

Though the minister claimed the government is confident of getting the land bill through parliament, he did not say how.
He, however, ruled out a joint sitting for getting the bill passed.

Top sources told IANS the government has decided to go slow on the bill and the suicide by Rajasthan farmer Gajendra Singh has made the situation more sensitive.

Mallikarjun Kharge, the leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, told IANS: “As of now we have not been told anything about the land bill”.

The contentious bill, which is meant to replace an ordinance amending the 2013 land acquisition act, was passed by the Lok Sabha after nine amendments amid a walkout by the Congress and other opposition parties.

The NDA which is in a minority in the upper house failed to muster support for the bill.

A majority of opposition parties, including the Congress, the Samajwadi Party and the Left parties, have made it clear that the bill should go to a select committee.

Kharge said: “Our stand remains the same. We want the 2013 UPA bill back”.

The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2015, seeks to replace an ordinance re-promulgated in April which had amended certain provisions of the 2013 act passed during the UPA rule.

The key points, which were removed from the earlier law, related to the consent clause and the social impact assessment study.

The consent clause provided for 70-80 percent of those dependent on the land to agree to its acquisition. The social impact assessment clause entailed carrying out a study to examine the environmental impact and ensure rehabilitation of displaced people.

The government agreed to nine amendments to the bill to get it passed in the Lok Sabha. These included removing social infrastructure as an exempted category and ensuring that the bare minimum of land required for a project is acquired.

Compulsory employment for at least one member of the affected family of a farm labourer has also been added as well as a clause that the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation Authority should hold hearings in the district where the acquisition takes place.

When the ordinance was re-promulgated by President Pranab Mukherjee, the nine amendments made when it was passed in the Lok Sabha were included.

The government has meanwhile told its ministers to fan across the country and convince farmers that the land acquisition ordinance is not anti-farmer.

A senior cabinet minister in the thick of things told IANS: “We are all going to our constituencies and home states and meeting farmers.”

“Not only the land bill, we are also talking about farmers’ problems in general and asking them for suggestions on how to improve agriculture and address farm distress in the country,” he said.

(Sreeparna Chakrabarty can be contacted at [email protected] and Anjali Ojha can be contacted at [email protected])