The government Monday indicated it is willing to make some changes to the bill amending the land acquisition Act, and that it is open to “new ideas and suggestions”. As the opposition attacked the government after it moved the bill in the Lok Sabha, Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu intervened: “Government is willing to go in for amendments in the bill in the larger interests of the community and the country.”
Naidu indicated his government may consider the 52 amendments moved by members, and that Rural Development Minister Birender Singh will look into possibilities such as replacing “social infrastructure” with “general infrastructure”, limiting the land acquired for industrial corridors, creating a “hassle-free” grievance redress cell at the district level, creating a “bank” of barren land and giving that priority in acquisition for industrial projects, and ensuring jobs for at least one member of displaced families. The last provision is already in Schedule 2 of the 2013 Act.
“For social infrastructure certain people are giving a different interpretation. They say that under this, one is going to acquire land for private hospitals, etc. We can think of leaving the social infrastructure and going for general infrastructure which is for the general public of the country,” Naidu said.
Defending the removal of the five-year cap for returning acquired land if a project is not completed, Naidu said it often takes years to develop a project.
Naidu said the government will not use the provisions of the proposed legislation for private entities, but stressed the country cannot prosper without industry and that agriculture and industry were like “two eyes”. He said the amendments were brought about after several states had asked for changes. Responding to the opposition’s demand to refer the bill to the standing committee, Naidu said the bill, which replaces an ordinance, has to be passed before April 5. “The House will run till March 20, how then are we going to pass the bill?”
The Congress’s Mallikarjun Kharge said his party will not accept any amendments to the 2013 legislation. “Either accept the 2013 Act as it is or refer it (the bill) to the standing committee,” he said.
Several opposition parties opposed the amendments that exempt five new categories of projects from consent and social impact assessment requirements, as well as the move to facilitate the acquisition of multicrop irrigated land.
Jyotiraditya Scindia said the changes would allow private entities to take away multicrop land, putting food security at stake. “Is the government trying to reduce this country to an importer of foodgrains?” Scindia said. “Under the veil of ordinary changes, you have buried the soul of the legislation.”
Kalyan Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress said his party will oppose the bill. “This government is anti-poor, anti farmer and will sell the country to industrialists,” Banerjee said. C N Jayadevan of the CPI said the government has a clear intention to have a “pro-corporate and anti-farmer” land acquisition law. The NCP’s Supriya Sule urged the government not to do away with the consent clause and said she couldn’t see any “logic” in these changes.
Even ally Shiv Sena’s Arvind Sawant demanded the government not remove the consent and SIA clauses while Jayadev Galla of TDP asked the Centre to modify the land acquisition laws on lines of the policy developed by Andhra Pradesh. Meanwhile, TRS leader B Vinod Kumar said his party was willing to support the bill if the government agreed to make the provisions more farmer-friendly.
Earlier in the day, the government had reached out to opposition parties. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Naidu and Chaudhary Birender Singh were among those from the government side. The opposition was represented by Kharge, B Mahtab of the BJD, D Raja of the CPI and Derek O’Brien of the Trinamool Congress.