New Delhi: After weeks of a tussle over the contentious land acquisition Bill, the government on Monday reached out to the Opposition by proposing to tweak several provisions of the Bill. But the Congress rejected any possibility of a rapprochement unless the original 2013 Act was retained or the Bill was referred to a standing committee.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi chaired a meeting of party MPs and seniors, after which the party asked its MPs to vote against the Bill in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday.
Senior ministers engaged with Opposition leaders in the morning, before introducing the Bill in the Lok Sabha in the afternoon. The government, at least until the proceedings were adjourned for the day, didn’t agree to the Opposition’s demand that the Bill be referred to a standing committee, with a commitment that it was willing to alter key provisions.
Discussions on the Bill in the Lok Sabha will continue on Tuesday.
MPs have moved 52 amendments to an ordinance on the land Act. It is expected the government will circulate its full set of proposed amendments before Rural Development Minister Chaudhury Birender Singh’s reply on Tuesday.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu told the Lok Sabha the “government is willing to go in for amendment in the (land) Bill in the larger interest of the community and the country”.
He added the amendments could include exempting only smaller projects from social impact assessment, acquiring irrigated multi-crop land only as the last resort, limiting the size of land to be acquired for industrial corridors, and exploring suggestions such as employment to a member of a family whose land has been acquired and creating a bank of barren/wasteland.
However, no sweeping changes are expected in the social impact assessment and consent clauses.
Officials said six amendments to the ordinance were being moved by the government, including restricting acquisition of land within a km of both sides of railways and highways and restructuring the grievance redressal mechanism by allowing affected families to approach district authorities.
The definition of ‘private entity’ might be altered to ‘private enterprise’, which will restrict the number of those planning to acquire land for private purposes.
On Monday morning, Naidu, along with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Rural Development Minister Birender Singh, met Opposition leaders such as the Congress’s Mallikarjun Kharge, the Biju Janata Dal’s Bhartruhari Mahtab and the Trinamool Congress’s Derek O’Brien.
Sources said the government promised to “re-define” some of the Bill’s provisions.
Kharge demanded the Bill be referred to a standing committee. He said his party wanted “no changes in the 2013 Bill…Either you accept the 2013 Act or refer the Bill to a standing committee”. But the government thinks once the amendments are incorporated, many parties will come on board.
Appealing to members to pass the legislation, Naidu said the problem was “this Bill, which replaces an ordinance, has to be passed before April 5. The House will run till March 20. Then how will we pass the Bill?” For Parliament, a recess is scheduled for March 20, before it meets again in mid-April.
Sanjay Raut of the Shiv Sena, part of the National Democratic Alliance, said his party wouldn’t support the Bill in its current form. The Bharatiya Janata Party, even without help of its allies, enjoys majority in the Lok Sabha. It is in minority in the Rajya Sabha.