The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government on Tuesday introduced the controversial land acquisition Bill in the Lok Sabha, amid vociferous protests by both opposition parties and allies alike. Reminiscent of past parliamentary proceedings, almost the entire opposition staged a walk-out, calling the Bill “anti-farmer and anti-people”. The Centre, admittedly, did ride roughshod over basic democratic principles in promulgating the land ordinance, without consulting members of the opposition.
Though it is rather clear that opposition parties, particularly the Congress, has no moral ground to pass such judgements. Of the 639 ordinances promulgated in post-independent India, 80 per cent were under Congress rule. More importantly, however, the government failed to consult the largest stakeholder in this entire episode, the farmer. Although Prime Minister Narendra Modi made it clear that there was no going back on the ordinance, his party members were open for discussions with their allies to make the legislation more “effective” and “farmer-friendly”.
Further representing the BJP’s defensive stance on the matter, party president Amit Shah has set up an eight-member panel to seek the views of farmers on the land acquisition bill. Discussions on the ordinance in Parliament, however, must proceed in earnest. Opposition parties, especially those in the Rajya Sabha, must get down to the business of the discussing controversial clauses in the ordinance and arrive at some sort of consensus, instead of staging walk-outs and passing slogans.
The central government must also arrive at some sort of consensus with farmer groups protesting at Jantar Mantar, under the stewardship of social activist Anna Hazare. The process of consensus building, a key essence of representative democracy, seems to have been subverted by all political entities concerned. It is time for all of them to get back to the drawing board because the stakes surrounding the land acquisition ordinance are rather high.
The land acquisition ordinance extends rehabilitation and compensation benefits to communities affected by certain kinds of development projects. Unfortunately, however, the ordinance has also sought to dismantle key safeguards that were pivotal to the previous land acquisition Bill presented by the erstwhile UPA-led government. The previous law, which came into force in January, stated that the consent of 70 per cent of families is mandatory where land is sought to be acquired for public-private partnership projects, and 80 per cent for private projects.
The ordinance, however, dispensed with this clause for a range of development projects, namely those related to rural infrastructure, industrial corridors, affordable housing and defence and national security. The ordinance also exempted these projects from having to go through a social impact assessment. Now that the mandatory consent clause has been removed for a vast swathe of projects, won’t farmers and other landowners be more vulnerable to land grabbing? If there is no need to assess the social impact of a particular class of infrastructure projects on landowners then on what basis would they be compensated? Hopefully any compensation provided would not solely be on the basis of market prices, which are readily susceptible to manipulation by land mafia. It is, therefore, absolutely critical for all stakeholders concerned to sit and discuss some of these controversial clauses, among other aspects.