After staunchly defending amendments brought in through an ordinance to the UPA’s land acquisition law of 2013, the NDA government has now proposed some changes. These are meant to address and assuage farmers’ concerns — such as the provision of compulsory employment to a member of the affected farm labourer’s family — and also to ensure safeguards against hoarding, by laying down, for instance, that only bare minimum land be acquired under the five broad categories exempted from social impact assessments. The government has, however, largely not relented on the provisions regarding consent of the affected families and mandatory social impact assessment, which even several Congress leaders and almost all states had earlier said would adversely impact industrial growth and economic development.
Certainly, given the unequivocal stance Prime Minister Narendra Modi had taken all this while, the BJP has travelled some distance. With the NDA government fully accepting the 2013 Act’s provisions relating to compensation and rehabilitation, the Congress’s continuing opposition seems more political now and can also be said to reflect its aversion to recognising the economic prospects the new law can potentially open up in the coming years. Many even within the BJP and the RSS had opposed a provision that allowed the government to acquire land for private hospitals and private educational institutions. This had led to a perception, they argued, that the government would help the corporate sector, where profit is the most important, if not the sole, motive, to get land. Private educational institutions — seen as money-making businesses — have mushroomed in states such as Maharashtra. While the words “social infrastructure” have been omitted from the clause elaborating on infrastructure, clarity is awaited on whether such projects are exempted from the provisions of the proposed law.
With rapid urbanisation and rising aspirations of a young population, the most pressing objective for the government should be job creation. The Union budget’s move to increase public expenditure, particularly in infrastructure-related sectors, fits in with the ambition of giving a fillip to government-led investment. This, in turn, will give the private sector the necessary confidence to start planning for the medium to long term. The new land bill is the biggest sub-story in the growth narrative that India offers to the rest of the world, which, for now, is in decline. International investors are also waiting for Indian democracy to deliver where it really matters — the economy.