Land Bill clears Oppn hurdle after govt agrees to key changes

The government has agreed to some key suggestions made by the BJP and other parties

Written by Ruhi Tewari | New Delhi | Published: April 19, 2013 3:44 am

After weeks of hectic negotiations,the government on Thursday claimed to have clinched a broad consensus on the crucial Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill,paving the way for its consideration and passage in the second half of the budget session of Parliament beginning April 22.

“We have reached a broad consensus on the Land Acquisition Bill,” announced Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath after an all-party meeting. The Bill,being seen as a key reform measure of the Congress-led government ahead of the Lok Sabha polls due next year,is expected to be brought in Parliament with around 35 major amendments.

“There was a general consensus that this Bill should be passed in this session. All parties have made it clear that they don’t want any delay,” said union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh.

The government has agreed to some key suggestions made by the BJP and other parties to get them on board for this proposed legislation that has been hanging fire since it was first introduced in Parliament in September 2011.

In a significant move,the government has agreed to the demand of some parties,including the BJP and Shiv Sena,to also compensate the original land owners if land that has been purchased by private entities after September 5,2011 (when the Bill was introduced) is acquired by the government. Parties had raised concerns of “land mafias” buying and hoarding land in anticipation of hefty compensation after acquisition by the government.

The government has agreed to include a provision that would ensure that in such cases,the original land owner also gets a share of the compensation. While the exact amount has not been decided,sources said it is likely to be in the range of 40 to 50 per cent of the total compensation awarded.

The government has also agreed to the BJP’s proposal on having an option where land is taken on lease from the farmers instead of being acquired,so that the ownership remains with the original land-owner. The Bill will have an “enabling provision” on leasing land,where states will be given the flexibility to pick this option.

The government has said it will “find a way of trying to incorporate” the CPI(M)’s demand that compensation be paid to tillers and tenants as well. In the current Bill,tenants benefit from only the resettlement and rehabilitation provision.

The government has also agreed to the CPM’s demand for changes in certain sections which give the government the right to amend clauses related to compensation as well as resettlement and rehabilitation. The party had demanded that the government should have the right to amend these provisions,but only to revise both upwards and not to dilute or reduce them.

“The government should have limited rights…It should be given flexibility but not unfrittered power,” said Ramesh,while concurring with the recommendation.

In tune with JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav’s demand,the government has said it will introduce a provision to ensure food security isn’t jeopardised. The social impact assessment will also look at how “a proposed project will impact food security in the region”. Further,MPs,MLAs and NGOs will also get representation during the SIA.

On the contentious issue of acquisition of multi-crop land,the government has said it will leave it to the states to decide what proportion of such land can be acquired.

However,some parties,including the DMK and CPM ,continue to harbour reservations about the Bill. While the former says the Centre should not have a right to legislate on the matter since land is a state subject,the latter has said consent of all families affected by acquisition should be taken. The Bill mandates the consent of at least 70 per cent of those whose land is acquired for PPP projects and 80 per cent when acquisition is for private companies.

Today’s meeting was attended by representatives from most political parties except the BSP,Trinamool Congress and Shiv Sena.

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