There was a last-minute hiccup in the passage of the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill in the Lok Sabha on Thursday when the Trinamool Congress demanded that the clause mandating private projects to take the consent of 80 per cent of landowners be changed to 100 per cent, as is prevalent in West Bengal.

The State, Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh said, could change this provision, but added that it could not be changed in the Bill, which was adopted with 216 of the 239 members present voting for it.

The Land Bill proposes that farmers and landowners be paid up to four times the market value for land acquired in rural areas, and two times the market value in urban areas. The Bill, Mr. Ramesh said, conveyed the government’s determination to address “widespread and historical injustices.”

Another key feature is that the consent of 80 per cent of land owners is needed for acquiring land for private projects and of 70 per cent landowners for public-private projects. “Public purpose” as per the Bill includes mining, infrastructure, defence, manufacturing zones, roads, railways, and ports built by the government and public sector enterprises.

Earlier, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh, whose party is supporting the UPA government from outside, expressed concern over certain provisions in the Bill and demanded that multi-crop and fertile land not be acquired. Mr. Singh said only barren and infertile land should be acquired for setting up industries, arguing that farmers would be devastated if their lands were taken away. Similar views were expressed by JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav, who said multi-crop land should be kept out of the purview of acquisition.

Initiating the debate, BJP president Rajnath Singh said there were a lot of grey areas in the Bill and expressed apprehension that forcible land acquisition would continue. “Lease can happen only when there is consent from the land owner,” he said, adding that poor people were ignored. “This is a comparatively better bill. But after studying it in full, I feel it is far away from its objective.”

Parties such as the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the CPI(M) and the Trinamool expressed concerns over remuneration to farmers and the right of farmers to appeal. BSP member Surendra Singh Nagar said the government had suddenly woken up as elections were round the corner. He pointed out that several suggestions, made by the Sonia Gandhi-headed National Advisory Council, were not incorporated.

However, describing the Bill as “historic,” Congress member Meenakshi Natrajan wanted the government to streamline information about land records across the country. The Bill, she said, would correct the historic wrong of land owners not getting adequate compensation during acquisition.

CPI(M) leader Basudeb Acharia said though his party supported the Bill, it wanted the legislation to be sent back again to the Parliamentary Standing Committee as further amendments were needed. He feared the measure would end up as a “draconian” measure.

RJD chief Lalu Prasad said the Bill should be enacted for the benefit of farmers and the government’s interference should be limited. “Private parties are coming to make business and profit. So the interest of farmers should be safeguarded,” he said.

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