Hitting out at the NDA government for being “blatantly anti-farmer and anti-poor”, Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Friday said her party will never endorse any law “that will break the backbone of this nation” and urged the BJP to “rise above the realm of narrow partisan politics” on the issue of the controversial Land Acquisition (amendment) Bill.
In a strongly worded letter to union minister Nitin Gadkari, written in response to his letter dated March 19 to her, Sonia has accused the government of “compromising the rights of the weaker sections of society to benefit a handful of private parties.”
“Quite frankly, I was amazed at its unabashed display of half-truths and misrepresentations. I should not, of course, be surprised because this is typical of your government when it runs out of logical and convincing arguments,” Sonia says in her letter.
The Congress president has accused the government of bringing in the amendments by “completely bypassing any debate or discussion”, while the 2013 Act was based on “extensive debate and consensus.”
“Your proposition for a debate after the government has unilaterally imposed an anti-farmer law is a mockery of the tradition of building bipartisan consensus before introducing laws of national importance,” the letter states.
“I wish to reiterate that the 2013 law is not a legacy of just the Congress party. It is a legacy of all parties – including the BJP – which gave their suggestions and came together for a landmark legislation to give primacy to the interests of farmers and labourers,” Sonia says, adding it is not just the opposition but also some constituents of NDA who are opposed to the changes.
“Farmers are the backbone of our country, and it is imperative that their interests be protected at any cost. This is non-negotiable for the Congress party. We shall never endorse any law that will break the backbone of this nation. I therefore urge you to rise above the realm of narrow partisan politics and bring back the 2013 law in totality, consistent with the sentiments and aspirations of our farmer brothers and sisters,” Sonia says.
The Congress president had on March 17 led a march of opposition parties from Parliament to the President’s House to protest against the amendments.
Lashing out at Gadkari for seeking to justify the changes as being in the interest of villages, poor, and farmers, and for claiming it facilitates irrigation, employment, industrial corridors and the defence industry, Sonia has said none of these has “any foundation whatsoever”
“Your arguments are designed to suggest that this is a new contribution that the Narendra Modi government is making, in contrast with the record of the UPA government..The UPA’s and Congress Party’s record on all these issues is second to none,” she says, in an attempt to make a strong political pitch to the farmers and rural poor.
“And, it is now being widely recognized that your government is blatantly anti-farmer and anti-poor, compromising the rights of the weaker sections of society to benefit a handful of private parties,” the letter adds.
Pointing out the fundamental differences between the Congress and NDA government, Sonia talks about the government’s move to completely do away with the Social Impact Assessment and consent clauses for some broad categories of projects, as against the 2013 Act. In a point by point rebuttal, she also talks about the amendment to acquire land not just for industrial corridors but also additional land up to one kilometre on both sides of the corridor.
Sonia also attacks the government for seeking to take credit for enhanced compensation and Rehabilitation and Resettlement (R&R) benefits for 13 laws, and says the 2013 Act had anyway mandated that within one year of its coming into force, these 13 laws had to be amended.
“Further, you have used these mandated amendments as a cover to push through other changes mentioned above that significantly dilute the 2013 law. Your attitude to these matters and your proposed legislation make a mockery of your claim that you stand for the interest of farmers,” she says, claiming the government’s position on defence, irrigation and electrification issues is “a blatant attempt to divert attention from your anti-farmer amendments”.
“Even you must recognize that all this makes your claim that the 2013 law is a hindrance to national security and the promotion of irrigation and rural development completely baseless and untenable,” Sonia says, while pointing out that it was the Congress-led UPA that “took the leadership and initiative to make Rehabilitation and Resettlement an integral part of the land acquisition law”.
“The overall reality is that the amendments brought forward by this government negate the 2013 law in letter and spirit,” she alleges.