New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has dug his heels in on the contentious issue of land acquisition. Senior ministers on Wednesday said the Centre was all set to re-promulgate the land ordinance, with Rural Development Minister Chaudhury Birender Singh saying the government was willing to further amend it to bring opposition parties on board.
To drive home the message that for the Modi government long-term goals were more important than immediate challenges such as the Bihar Assembly elections, the Centre might even prorogue one of the two Houses of Parliament mid-session to facilitate the re-promulgation. The ordinance lapses on April 5. On Wednesday, the Cabinet gave its approval to incorporate nine amendments with which the Lok Sabha had passed the land Bill on March 10. “We had given some amendments. The Cabinet has given post facto approval to those amendments,” minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said after the Cabinet meeting.
According to sources, some in the Cabinet favoured allowing the land ordinance to lapse in the face of the opposition propaganda that it was anti-farmer. But, the PM and his senior ministers, who had met on Tuesday evening as well to discuss the issue, were of the view that the government should remain steadfast in its commitment to amend the 2013 Land Act to exhibit its commitment to Modi’s promise of ‘sabka vikas’ or development for all.
The land Bill issue and the challenges it posed was discussed at the periodic Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-BJP coordination committee meeting held at Union minister Nitin Gadkari’s residence on Monday.
In Chandigarh, the rural development minister said the government will make another attempt to build a consensus with opposition parties to ensure the Bill’s passage in the Rajya Sabha. The government is hopeful of some of the non-Congress and non-Left parties supporting it on the issue, as they did with the coal and mines and minerals Bills. Singh said the government was also thinking of constituting a committee headed by the MLA and MP of an area concerned where the land is to be acquired as they can raise the farmers’ concerns.
Singh said the government was thinking of making another amendment in the Bill that would enable municipal corporations outside city limits to have compensation on par with villages. “We also want to have a provision that wasteland or uncultivable land be first exhausted. However, if canal or railway line is to be constructed, these will be exceptions, but for infrastructure, wasteland and non-cultivable land will be given priority for acquisition purposes,” Singh said. He hinted that the controversial consent clause could diluted to around 50-60 per cent, but strictly that of land owners and not those who are occupying the same. He further said changes could be made in the Act under which land under now defunct public sector undertakings could be considered for acquisition on a priority basis.
Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu, too, touched on the issue and said infrastructure development could suffer unless adequate land is made available for such projects and government is trying to address the issue.
Government strategists had consulted constitutional experts to explore if it could re-promulgate the ordinance when Parliament was in session. According to Article 123 of the Constitution, an ordinance cannot be promulgated when either of the two Houses is in session. But there have been 13 previous occasions, mostly during Congress regimes, when one of the two Houses was prorogued mid-session to promulgate ordinances.
The Budget session, which started on February 23, is currently observing a month’s recess from March 21 to April 19. Options with the government include re-promulgating the ordinance by proroguing one of the Houses or with retrospective affect once the session ends on May 8. The government can re-promulgate an ordinance endlessly every six months. The Constitution does not specify the number of times an ordinance can be re-promulgated. An ordinance has a life of six months but lapses if not approved within six weeks of the commencement of a Parliament session. The six weeks of the Land Bill expire on April 5.