New Delhi: Rural Development Minister Chaudhary Birender Singh on Friday scotched rumours that he had concerns over a recent ordinance on land acquisition, saying he would not have been a minister if the reports to this effect in certain quarters were correct.
The speculations gained ground because Singh was not among the three ministers who went to meet President Pranab Mukherjee recently to explain the urgency in the Cabinet decision to clear the ordinance. This is despite the fact that the law in question related to his ministry. It is learnt that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Law Minister D V Sadananda Gowda and Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari had met the President.
When asked why was he not contacted on the issue, Singh told reporters at a press conference: “Efforts were made to trace me, but I could not be contacted. If the President has consulted one or two ministers, naturally they will be there.”
There were speculations that Singh, who hails from farmer-dominated Haryana and defected to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from the Congress ahead of the state Assembly polls, was upset over the dilution of the law enacted during the United Progressive Alliance regime.
“If I am angry, then I would not have been a minister. The Ordinance is a collective responsibility of the government,” he said.
Defending the Ordinance, he asserted that farmers’ interests have been protected as “none of the clauses relating to compensation, relief and rehabilitation have been removed”.
“I have ensured that farmers’ interests are protected,” the minister said at the press conference, highlighting the achievements of his ministry.
Singh said most states, including some Congress-ruled ones such as Kerala, Karnataka and Assam, wanted changes in clauses related to consent and social impact assessment process as they were finding it very difficult to acquire land for pushing infrastructure and other development projects on the ground.
He said the states have the discretion to act or not on Section 10-A, which has been amended by the Ordinance.
Section 10(A) of the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 exempted five sectors from getting the consent of land owners and social impact analysis. These are public-private partnership (PPP) projects, affordable housing, industrial corridors, rural infrastructure and defence installations.
The minister denied any pressure from industry on him to bring amendments in the land law.
Meanwhile, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (Ficci) expressed the hope that easing of procedural difficulties in the land law would be extended to all projects.
Ficci president Jyotsna Suri asked the government to keep private purchase out of ambit of the Act.
“The process of price discovery is natural in case of transactions involving willing seller and willing buyer and there is no need for additional compensation. Such transactions should, thus, not be subjected to additional R&R (relief and rehabilitation) stipulations” Suri added.