NEW DELHI: Neither the government nor the chief Opposition Congress on Friday budged from their respective positions on the Land Ordinance or the pending legislation. They remained at loggerheads. If Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi shot off a stinging letter to the government reiterating her Opposition to the land issue at the beginning of the day, the government by evening decided to prorogue the Rajya Sabha so as to re-promulgate the Ordinance.
That there was no meeting ground on the issue, was evident from the strongly-worded reply that Sonia wrote to minister Nitin Gadkari, who earlier held the Rural Development portfolio, and had made overtures to the Congress chief on the issue. Just as the government stuck to the line that without amending the earlier Land Act development was not possible, the Congress chief reiterated her party’s position--describing the government’s Land Ordinance as “anti-farmer” and “myopic” brought to “favour select industrialists”.
In her note, which reads like a harangue, Sonia described the government’s arguments justifying the Ordinance as “unabashed display of half-truths and misrepresentations”. She made it clear that the land issue was “non-negotiable” for her party.
The land reforms sought by the government have been denounced as “anti-farmer” by the Opposition parties as well as some of the government’s allies. In December, the Prime Minister used his executive orders to make major changes to the Land Acquisition Law cleared by Parliament in 2013, when the Congress-led UPA Government was in power.
In the letter, Sonia pointed out that the law was passed with the support of the BJP when it was in the Opposition. The “2013 law was enacted with complete political unanimity, including consent of the BJP in Parliament and states--why dilute the soul and spirit of this unanimity by way of Ordinance?” she asked.
The government, however, ignored her intervention and went ahead and prorogued the Upper House, setting the stage for re-promulgation of the Ordinance. Besides, the government pooh-poohed her opposition as “grandstanding”, which runs “contrary to what Chief Ministers of her own party had to say on the earlier land act”. The government claims the Land Ordinance aims at making it easier for businesses to buy land and “is key to the Prime Minister’s economic reform agenda”. It exempts projects in five categories, including defence, from seeking the consent of 80 per cent of the affected landowners as mandated by the 2013 law. Businesses will also be exempt from holding a social impact study involving public hearings.
The Land Ordinance issued by the government lapses on April 5 and it needs cross-party support to get it passed in the Upper House where it is in a minority.
The Congress is opposed to any amendment to the earlier Land Act, which it says has the required safeguards, including exemption from consent clause and social impact study for defence and national security projects (Section 40) as well as irrigation and power projects. This was pointed out in Sonia ‘s letter. She also said that subsequent amendment to the Land Bill brought in the Lok Sabha during the recent Budget Session, were also part of the earlier Land Act, including providing benefits and mandatory employment to landless labourers and affected families.