DELHI: Congress is looking to notch back-to-back successes on 'aam aadmi' plank, with the vexed land bill likely to be passed in Lok Sabha on Thursday, three days after the ruling camp clinched the food security legislation amplifying the rhetoric of inclusive growth.
The overhaul of the land acquisition law of 1894 seeks to check government's power to take over private land, resulting from rising confrontation between owners and the state. The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2012 is widely perceived to be necessary in order to get rid of an antiquated law which allowed governments to acquire increasingly scarce land for a pittance to be handed over to business houses to set up industries.
Lack of transparency facilitated corruption: a reason for heartburn among farmers and landowners which triggered confrontations across the country.
The pressure for a revamp of the century-old law escalated in the wake of the acquisition of land for SEZs in UPA-1, forcing Congress to think of measures to protect its pro-farmer credentials.
The bid to allay the concerns of farmers has, however, led to apprehension about some provisions of the bill. The clause requiring consent of 80% of landowners for private projects and 70% in the case of private public partnership projects has sparked fear that acquiring land may become difficult, if not impossible. The timing of the bill, with rupee along with growth parameters sliding, have only deepened the worry.
However, this has not detained the government which has framed the legislation as part of its New Deal for farmers supposedly at the receiving end of capricious acquisitions for the benefit of industrial houses. Competition among the political class, just as in the case of food safety bill, is expected to ensure smooth passage of the bill despite opponents being convinced that it would be an addition to Congress's poll armoury.
Even as they bicker over other legislations, Congress and BJP reached a remarkable understanding to debate and pass the bill on Thursday. Rural development minister Jairam Ramesh facilitated a pact by accepting the suggestions of leader of opposition Sushma Swaraj.
The minister even gave credit to the principal opposition for the deal. "Sushma Swaraj has been a key factor and Rajnath Singh has been a great support in this endeavour," Ramesh said.
The government is hoping the bill will pass muster in Rajya Sabha too.
But behind the Congress's eagerness to share credit lies the gameplan to beef up its 'aam aadmi" credentials, the land bill and food security law being crucial manifesto promises identified with Sonia and Rahul Gandhi.
The bonhomie in Parliament is likely to disappear on the political pitch with Congress set to claim that it has delivered on a pro-rural promise despite serious reservations from industry. It would be a perfect fit for the campaign to position food law as 'pro-poor" since it has also come under fire from fiscal disciplinarians.
While amendments to the century-old law were proposed five years ago, the land law gained prominence when Rahul espoused the cause of Bhatta Parsaul agitation, and before that Aligarh expressway protests. Congress claimed the land bill would address the harassment of the poor and farmers forced to give up land at meager rates.
Wary of Congress's game plan, BJP chief Rajnath Singh will open the debate to ensure the opposition is not pushed out of the frame for credits. If Congress and BJP join hands, the opposition to the bill from Left and Trinamool Congress may not matter much.