Rural Development Ministry finalises a draft that requires 80% consent from owners

United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s stance on the much-debated Land Acquisition Bill has prevailed, with the Rural Development Ministry finalising a version that requires the government to get 80 per cent consent from owners for acquiring land for any project, be it run by the state or the private industry, or under a public-private partnership.

Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh confirmed that ‘The Right to Fair Compensation, Resettlement, Rehabilitation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Bill’ was finalised. “It is currently with the Law Ministry. I hope to bring it to the Cabinet next week, and expect to introduce it in the winter session of Parliament.”

He refused to comment on the final shape of the bill; he would only say that “a satisfactory consensus has been reached [which] ensures that the Bill meets the concerns of those who wanted maximum weightage given to farmers’ concerns while taking into account the need to send a positive signal to investors and industries.”

However, senior officials of the Ministry confirmed that the final version reflected Ms. Gandhi’s view. She had vetoed the proposal of a Group of Ministers (GoM), headed by Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, to dilute the consent requirement to just 67 per cent of landowners for private and public-private partnership projects.

Ms. Gandhi reportedly insisted that no such dilution was possible as the bill formed a key part of the Congress’ “political agenda,” and a potentially vital plank of its appeal to farmers in the next election.

Farmers launched several protests last year against the government’s blanket powers to acquire land for “public purpose” at a set price.

Originally, the Bill required 80 per cent consent from both landowners and livelihood losers, the farm workers who do not own land themselves, but depend on it for their livelihood. But industry lobbyists argued that this would make acquisitions almost impossible, and Ministers heading infrastructure portfolios forced the Cabinet to refer the bill to the GoM last month.

After three rounds of heated debate, the GoM recommended 67 per cent consent requirement. After Mrs. Gandhi’s veto a few days later, Mr. Ramesh and Mr. Pawar held several meetings and consulted other Ministers on the contentious issue over the last month.

“We have decided to stick to the 80 per cent requirement,” said a senior official of the Ministry. “There is a time issue here, as we want to introduce it in this session of Parliament, so we have made our decision and finalised the bill. Any further debate can be held in the Cabinet, or in Parliament itself.”

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