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Deve Gowda puts BJP on notice

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S. Rajendran

Accept the proposed legislation on land acquisition for infrastructure or face the consequences

The Supreme Court directed the Government to provide land for an expresswayBJP says the proposed legislation went against the apex court directions

Bangalore: The four-and-a-half-month-old coalition Karnataka Government headed by H.D. Kumaraswamy is precariously poised, with the former Prime Minister and Janata Dal (Secular) president, H.D. Deve Gowda, categorically stating that the Bharatiya Janata Party should either accept the proposed legislation pertaining to the acquisition of large tracts of government land for infrastructure development or face the consequences. He said the coalition partner (BJP) should cooperate if it was interested in the smooth running of the Government.

Kumaraswamy's threat

The relationship between the two parties took a turn for the worse on Tuesday when the Ministers of Cabinet rank belonging to the BJP failed to turn up at the Cabinet meeting to discuss the draft of the legislation titled "Karnataka Streamlining of Infrastructure Development and Utilisation of Land Bill 2006" which was on the agenda. In a huff, Chief Minister Kumaraswamy threatened to put in his papers if the BJP did not cooperate with the proposed legislation.

Mr. Gowda told The Hindu that he and the JD (S) had the highest respect for the judiciary and there was no question of going against the Supreme Court orders. The apex court, in a judgment on April 20, directed the State Government to provide the required land for an expressway and "we are also committed to the speedy completion of the project."

BJP stand

The former Prime Minister's statement was obviously a reaction to the BJP stance that while it was not opposed to the Government re-assuming the excess land of 2,450 acres made over for the project, 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 on Wednesday, with Deputy Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa and several other senior Ministers heading for various districts to participate in election campaigns relating to the coming legislative council elections. But the expressway project and the related legislation continued to be the centre of discussion in both the JD (S) and the BJP. Officially, the leaders of both the parties stressed there was no threat to the coalition Government and that a solution would be found to the vexed problem.

Opinion solicited

Mr. Gowda told The Hindu that it was strange that the BJP was apprehensive even to look into a draft legislation. "All that the JD (S) has proposed is to bring forth a draft legislation pertaining to the acquisition of lands for major infrastructure projects. It will be brought to the notice of Assembly Speaker Krishna and with his concurrence the legislation will be placed before the people for a minimum period of 15 days to ascertain their opinion." It is not that the Government is keen on pushing through with the legislation straightway. The opinion of the people, including the promoters of the Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprise (NICE), would be solicited.

People's welfare foremost

Mr. Gowda said the JD (S) was firm on the legislation. "It is not out of prestige or the ego of any given 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 quite natural for the party to do its best for the welfare of the people at the present juncture. A comprehensive legislation will take care of the people's interest, particularly the small landowners in the rural areas."

Asked whether the legislation would be against the orders of the Supreme Court, Mr. Gowda said, the Supreme Court in its April 20 order referred to the Government's right to bring forth a piece of legislation within the guidelines of the Constitution. Further, the Supreme Court largely relied on the judgments of the Karnataka High Court pertaining to the same matter. The High Court passed two judgments in the matter first in a case filed by Somashekar Reddy and the second in a petition filed by two legislators J.C. Madhuswamy and G.V. Sreerama Reddy.

Mr. Gowda said it was improper to state that he was attempting to scuttle the important project. "However, in the name of the BOOT, precious lands of farmers cannot be looted. Even the apex court has said that the road work should be first completed, before work on the townships commences."

Bone of contention

Interestingly, the agreement for the Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor (BMIC) was first signed when Mr. Gowda was Chief Minister between 1994-96. However, successive Governments, particularly that of J.H. Patel and S.M. Krishna, changed the contours of the project. The 111-km expressway to be executed by NICE originally comprised seven townships alongside the speedway and this was later reduced to five townships.

The project also envisaged a 30-year lease after which the expressway and parts of the townships would be reverted to government control. The bone of contention now is over the acquisition of 2,450 acres of prime lands around Bangalore in the name of the expressway projects and which was reportedly outside the purview of the agreement.

The important features of the draft legislation included termination of the agreement with the BMIC although the Government could have the option to have a fresh agreement with the NICE for the completion of the expressway. Another feature was the dissolution of the corridor planning authority, which now controlled the usage of the lands adjoining the expressway.

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