Govt U-turn likely on land Billtext_fields
New Delhi: In clear indications that the government may make a U-turn on the contentious land acquisition law, a Parliamentary committee on Monday approved changes in the Modi government’s bill, including on the consent clause that will restore the UPA law.
The way for possible climbdown by the government was facilitated by BJP members moving amendments in the Joint Committee of Parliament seeking to bring back key provisions of UPA’s land law, including on the consent clause and social impact assessment by dropping the changes brought by Modi Government in December last year and subsequently revalidated by Ordinance thrice.
Sources said all the 11 BJP members in the 30-member panel today moved amendments seeking withdrawal of the terminology “private entity”, which was “private company” in the 2013 law passed during the UPA regime.
Others in the Committee belong to the Congress (5), Trinamool Congress (2), Janata Dal United, Samajwadi Party, BJD, Shiv Sena, NCP, BSP, TRS, LJP, CPI-M and TDP (all one each).
Trinamool Congress members Derek 'O Brien and Kalyan Banerjee walked out of the meeting stating that the amendments were circulated this morning and they had little time to study.
The government appears to have changed its strategy in view of the fact that assembly elections in the agrarian state of Bihar are due in a short time and the ruling party may be averse to being seen as “anti-farmer”, a charge Opposition had been making against the BJP.
Apart from the Congress, which wanted restoration of UPA's 2013 Act, parties like Left, SP, JDU, BSP, BJD were also opposing the amendments tooth and nail.
Faultlines in NDA on the Land Bill were also visible with three of BJP's allies — Shiv Sena, SAD and Swabhimani Paksha — red-flagging a number of provisions of the bill before the panel and seeking restoration of the consent and social impact assessment clauses.
Saffron affiliates, including Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, Bhartiya Kisan Sangh, Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh and Akhil Bhartiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, have also opposed the bill and demanded restoration of the consent clause and social impact assessment.
Out of 672 representations that were made before the panel, 670 opposed the amendments being brought by the government in the land bill particularly changes in consent clause and social impact survey.
The LARR Act, 2013 stated that if an offence is committed by the government, the head of the department would be deemed guilty unless he could show that the offence was committed without his knowledge, or that he had exercised due diligence to prevent the commission of the offence.
The NDA bill sought to replace this provision and stated that if an offence was committed by a government official, he cannot be prosecuted without the prior sanction of the government.
With the BJP retracting from its previous position, there is likelihood that the panel headed by BJP MP SS Ahluwalia will come out with a consensus report by August 7.
“It's as good as our own Act of 2013,” a Congress member of the committee said after the meeting expressing total agreement with the amendments moved by the ruling BJP.
Out of the total 15 amendments in the NDA bill, nine were substantial in nature that have been opposed by Congress and a number of Opposition parties.
Out of these nine six, including the provisions dealing with consent clause, social impact assessment, replacing the term private company with private entity, were discussed today and a consensus has emerged on them, Congress members claimed.
The LARR Act, 2013 required that the consent of 80 per cent of land owners is obtained for private projects and that the consent of 70 per cent of land owners be obtained for PPP projects.
The NDA bill exempted the five categories from this provision of the Act. The categories included defence, rural infrastructure, affordable housing, industrial corridors, and infrastructure projects including Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects where the central government owns the land.
In addition, the bill permitted the government to exempt projects in these five categories from provisions of Social Impact Assessment (SIA) and restrictions on acquisition of irrigated multi-crop land and other agricultural land.
In the 2013 Act, SIA was to be conducted to identify affected families and calculate the social impact on people when a particular piece of land is acquired.
Besides under the Act, irrigated multi-cropped land cannot be acquired beyond the limit specified by the appropriate government. The 2015 sought to remove these restrictions.
Under the UPA Act, if the land acquired remained unutilised for five years, it had to be returned to the original owners or the land bank. The NDA bill modified it saying the period after which unutilised land will need to be returned will be either be five years or any period specified at the time of setting up the project, whichever is later.
The 2013 Act also stated that the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 will continue to apply in certain cases, where an award has been made under the 1894 Act but if such an award was made five years or more before the enactment of 2013 law and physical possession of land has not been taken or compensation has not been paid, the new law will apply.
In the proposed bill it was said that in calculating this time period, any period during which the proceedings of acquisition were held up due to a stay order of a court, or a period specified in the award of a Tribunal for taking possession, or any period where possession has been taken but the compensation is lying deposited in a court or any account, will not be counted.
The 2013 law excluded the acquisition of land for private hospitals and private educational institutions from its purview. The NDA bill removed this restriction. While the old Act was applicable for the acquisition of land for private companies, the Bill changed this to acquisition for ‘private entities’.
A private entity is an entity other than a government entity, and could include a proprietorship, partnership, company, corporation, non profit organisation, or other entity under any other law.