Deve Gowda puts BJP on notice

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S. Rajendran

Discord over acquisition of large tracts of government land for infrastructure development

No question of going against Supreme Court orders, says former Prime MinisterLegislation meant to acquire land for infrastructure projectsPublic opinion to be ascertained before law is passed

Bangalore: The fate of the four-and-a-half-month-old coalition government in the State headed by H.D. Kumaraswamy is precariously poised with Janata Dal (Secular) national president H.D. Deve Gowda categorically stating that the Bharatiya Janata Party should either accept the proposed legislation to acquire large tracts of government land for infrastructure development projects or face the consequences. It is a transparent exercise and the BJP should understand that it should cooperate if it is interested in the smooth running of the government, according to the former Prime Minister.

Turn for the worse

The relationship between the two parties took a turn for the worse on Tuesday when BJP Ministers delayed attending a Cabinet meeting to discuss the draft legislation titled "Karnataka Streamlining of Infrastructure Development and Utilisation of Land Bill, 2006," which was on the agenda. Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy reportedly threatened to put in his papers if the BJP did not go along with the proposed legislation.

The former Prime Minister has been fighting against the expressway project since 1999 on the grounds that nearly 2,500 acres of excess land had been made available to the project promoters, Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprise, outside the purview of the original agreement.

Mr. Deve Gowda told The Hindu here on Wednesday that he and his party had the highest respect for the judiciary, and there was no question of going against the orders of the Supreme Court. The court, in a judgment on April 20, directed the State Government to provide the land required for the expressway. "We are committed to the speedy completion of the project," he said.

The former Prime Minister's statement was obviously a reaction to the BJP's stance that while it was not opposed to the Government taking over the excess 2,450 acres, the proposed legislation was not acceptable to it since it went against the directions of the Supreme Court.

There was a lull in political activity today with Deputy Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa and other senior BJP Ministers going to various districts to campaign for the Legislative Council elections.

Point of focus

But the expressway project and the related legislation continued to be the focus in both the JD(S) and the BJP camps. Officially, the leaders of both the parties made it a point to state that there was no threat to the coalition government.

Mr. Deve Gowda said that it was strange that the BJP was apprehensive of even looking at the draft legislation. "All that the JD (S) has proposed is to bring forth a draft legislation to acquire lands for major infrastructure projects. The draft legislation will be brought to the notice of the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly and, with his concurrence, it will be placed before the people for at least 15 days to ascertain their opinion." The Government was not keen on pushing through the legislation, he said. The opinion of the people, including the promoters of NICE, would be sought.

He said the JD(S) was firm on bringing in the legislation. "It is not a question of prestige or ego of any leader. I have been fighting against illegal land acquisitions in the name of infrastructure development and de-notification of acquired lands as well. With the JD(S) heading the present Government, it is but natural for the party to do its best for the welfare of the people. A comprehensive legislation will take care of the people's interest, particularly small landowners in rural areas," he said.

Asked whether the legislation would not be against the orders of the Supreme Court, Mr. Deve Gowda said the Supreme Court had referred to the Government's right to bring in legislation within the guidelines of the Constitution. Further, the Supreme Court had largely relied on the judgments of the Karnataka High Court pertaining to the same matter.

Mr. Deve Gowda said it was improper to state that he was attempting to scuttle the important infrastructure project.

The agreement for the Bangalore-Mysore expressway was signed when Mr. Deve Gowda was the Chief Minister during 1994-96. However, successive governments, particularly those headed by the late J.H. Patel and S.M. Krishna changed the contours of the project.

Bone of contention

The bone of contention now is over the acquisition of 2,450 acres of prime land in the name of the expressway project outside the purview of the framework agreement with NICE.

The important features of the draft legislation include termination of the agreement with NICE although the Government would have the option of a fresh agreement with the company for the completion of the expressway. It envisages the dissolution of the corridor planning authority, which presently has control over the usage of land adjoining the expressway.

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