Before granting assent to the ordinance cleared by the Union Cabinet on Monday, amending the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, President Pranab Mukherjee asked the NDA government to explain the urgency behind the ordinance.
Article 123 empowers the President to promulgate an ordinance when the Parliament is not in session, but he has to be certain that there are adequate circumstances to warrant urgent legislative action.
It was only after three senior ministers — Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Law Minister D V Sadananda Gowda and Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari — put forth the government’s viewpoint and persuaded the President about the need to move swiftly, that Mukherjee signed on the dotted line to promulgate the ordinance on Wednesday.
It is learnt that the three ministers met Mukherjee on Wednesday to explain why the government was in a hurry to get the ordinance promulgated to amend the law, rather than wait for the next Parliament session.
Sources told The Indian Express that the ministers cited Section 105 of the Act which provides for excluding 13 central legislation, including Land Acquisition (Mines) Act 1885, Atomic Energy Act, 1962, Railway Act 1989, National Highways Act 1956 and Metro Railways (Construction of Works) Act, 1978, from its purview.
They are learnt to have informed the President that the government had been advised by legal experts that since the Act came into force on January 1, 2014, unless an ordinance was issued before January 1, 2015, these 13 legislation would also come under the purview of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.
However, it wasn’t just one amendment that the Cabinet cleared. Another amendment — this one in Section 10(A) of the Act — expands the list of projects that would not require Social Impact Assessment (SIA ) and prior consent of affected families.
These include projects for defence and defence production, rural infrastructure including rural electrification, affordable housing and housing for the poor, industrial corridors as well as infrastructure and social infrastructure projects including public private partnership projects wherein the ownership continues to vest with the government.
A government functionary agreed that there was no urgency behind amending this clause and the government could have waited for the next session of Parliament for this purpose.
While senior government functionaries have repeatedly spoken about the government’s intention to amend the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, which many — both within the government and outside — feel is blocking investments coming into the country, there was no move by the government to introduce an amendment Bill in this regard in the recently-concluded session of Parliament.
Meanwhile, there is no final word on whether the President intends to grant assent to two other ordinances — one pertaining to changes in Citizenship Act, 1955 and another dealing with changes to the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 — which were also cleared by the Cabinet at the same meeting on December 29.