The Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) examining the land acquisition bill will meet on Monday, three days before the winter session of Parliament begins, in an attempt to thrash out a consensus on three of the 14 contentious clauses on which there is no unanimity yet.
Committee members from opposition parties such as the Congress, Trinamool Congress and the Left, as well as NDA ally Shiv Sena are yet to concede to the Modi government’s stand on these three clauses. The 30-member JPC chaired by BJP’s S S Ahluwalia is expected to submit its report in the first week of the session.
The government’s attempts to amend the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, by taking the executive route through ordinance, has failed thrice. The bill, which seeks to amend the principal Act, is still pending before the Rajya Sabha, and the JPC’s report is the BJP government’s only hope of getting its version passed through the legislative route.
“Members have arrived at a consensus with regard to most of the 14 clauses barring three. These include the clause pertaining to unutilised land, excluding the litigation period from the computation of compensation and the ‘removal of difficulty’ clause,” said a source.
The 2013 Act mandates that any acquired land that remains unutilised for a period of five years must revert to the original owner. Based on the argument that crucial irrigation and power projects require a much longer period, the proposed amendment changes it to “a period specified for setting up of any project or for five years, whichever is later.”
Another point of disagreement is the proposed amendment that will give the government overriding powers to make changes in any provision of the Act through executive orders for ‘removal of difficulty’. As per the 2013 Act, this power was limited to only a certain part of the Act and to a period of two years, which expires on December 31, 2015. It is now proposed to be increased by another five years.
Sources said the major point of contention is the proposed amendment that waters down the retrospective applicability of the 2013 Act. Section 24 (2) of the Act states that all land acquisition proceedings initiated under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, shall be deemed to have lapsed in case the award was made more than five years prior to the commencement of 2013 Act but the actual possession was not taken or compensation not paid.
The government now seeks to exclude any period of court stay or injunction from the computation of the five-year period.
The Modi government wants to stick to its position on these three clauses after it was forced to rescind on many others. One such significant climbdown was agreeing to retain the consent and social impact assessment (SIA) clauses included in the 2013 version.
The BJP government had unsuccessfully tried to exempt five categories of projects such as industrial corridors, affordable housing, defence, rural infrastructure and infrastructure projects including public-private partnership ones from the mandatory consent and SIA requirement.