Directive comes in the wake of turmoil in Greater Noida

Supplementing political offensive with a dose of administrative endeavour, in the build-up to the next round of Assembly elections, focussed on Uttar Pradesh, Prime Minster Manmohan Singh has asked Union Minister for Rural Development Vilasrao Deshmukh to finalise at the earliest the two amended Bills on land acquisition and rehabilitation and resettlement.

Confirming Dr. Singh's directive, Mr. Deshmukh told The Hindu that he had conveyed his readiness with the Bills and would approach the Cabinet at the earliest, possibly at its next meeting, to complete all formalities for their introduction in the next session of Parliament commencing on July 12.

Dr. Singh issued the directive in the wake of the turmoil in Greater Noida, even as Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi visited anguished farmers on Wednesday.

The Rural Development Ministry has decided to amend the Land Acquisition Bill and the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, both of which, despite their introduction in Parliament, have remained stalled in the face of opposition, also from within the United Progressive Alliance.

The Ministry has decided to redefine “public purpose” following a controversy raised in several quarters and allow the States to exercise their discretion on the mode and quantum of acquisition of land, which, in any case, is a State subject.

Mr. Deshmukh said his Ministry redefined “public purpose” to include concerns expressed by a cross-section of society. As for the opposition to the provision that the State governments would be required to acquire 30 per cent of the land needed by a private player after he acquires 70 per cent of it himself, Mr. Deshmukh said the States would be allowed to decide on this issue.

While the government will acquire land for itself when required, where the private sector intends acquiring land for its own project or setting up a special economic zone, the State governments are allowed to set the conditions.

The Centre intends putting in place just a general guideline and the minimum amount payable to farmers for the land. The States are free to raise the base levels and see if they should play a role in land acquisition.

Mr. Deshmukh stressed that the option was being kept open because no one particular model would suit two States alike; much would depend on the development quotient of the State. While some States might feel comfortable with acquiring even 50 per cent of the land for private players, others might want to avoid the exercise altogether. Some might keep their involvement to the bare minimum.

Mr. Deshmukh expressed the hope that Railway Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee would agree to the new proposals. Similarly, he said, he was in close touch with the National Advisory Council, headed by Sonia Gandhi. Mr. Deshmukh said he had, however, overruled the objections raised by the Panchayati Raj Ministry, which portfolio also he holds. The Panchayati Raj Department maintained that the provisions of the Land Acquisition Bill violated the Constitution as it negated the role of Gram Sabhas.

Mr. Deshmukh said it was not possible to accommodate all views and the only way out was to accept common suggestions.

Ruling out the possibility of providing land in return for land, he said the government would ensure that private players provided employment to the displaced in case industrial units were set up, or, if land was commercially developed, 12.5 per cent of the developed site was given to the farmer to pursue a business of his liking.