Led by Nationalist Congress Party supremo Sharad Pawar, close to a third of the 30-member Joint Parliamentary Committee examining the controversial Land Bill have questioned the rationale for Prime Minister Narendra Modi using Wednesday’s NITI Aayog meeting to pitch the draft law with Chief Ministers.
Panel members also expressed their anger at the fact that the four Secretaries of the Ministries concerned, who were supposed to depose before them on Thursday all did a no-show, saying it was an “insult.” Their absence on Thursday has effectively delayed the submission of the panel’s report now to August 3.
At the panel’s meeting on Thursday, Mr. Pawar, sources said, wanted to know why the PM had used the NITI Aayog forum to discuss the subject with Chief Ministers when Parliament had set up a committee to look at it. It was the NCP leader who also led the attack on the government after the four Secretaries failed to show up.
Other members who took umbrage at the PM’s intervention on Wednesday included the Congress’s Jairam Ramesh, the Trinamool Congress’s Kalyan Bannerjee and Derek O’Brien and the Biju Janata Dal’s Bhartuhari Mahtab.
Even the BJP’s Ganesh Singh was moved to say that the panel’s task was to deliberate on the draft Bill’s provisions, and not be influenced by what was being said or what was happening outside.
‘Approach Speaker’ An irate Mr. Bannerjee suggested going to Speaker Sumitra Mahajan to tell her that the panel was not being allowed to function. His colleague, Mr. O'Brien later tweeted, “Mockery or meeting? Last time Parliament Committee on Land Bill didn't function because MPs turned up, govt officials did not. Repeated today?”
Mr. Mahtab pointed out that the panel had been formed by Parliament, not by the government. Statements being made by Ministers outside on the Bill or the PM speaking of a deadlock, focussing only on the opposition of the Congress, he said, was creating an impression that needed to be countered, suggesting that perhaps the panel Chairman should also go public with the Committee’s deliberations.
On July 6, the panel had decided to summon the Secretaries, Legal Affairs, Rural Development and Industrial Policy and Promotion, as well as top Railway officials on July 16 to listen to their views on the government-sponsored amendments to the 2013 Act, as well as to the complaints/grievances of the individuals and organisations that had appeared before the panel. One member later said, “It seems this government is shy of facing not only Parliament but even the Parliament panel. It looks officers have no clear brief. Hence they are not turning up.”
The members had decided that if the government was able to reply to their queries on July 16, the panel could take up clause-by-clause consideration of the bill from July 22.
Now that process will be postponed as the Secretaries are now to appear before the panel on July 22. After hearing them, members will be asked to move amendments that will be circulated on July 24. On July 27, there will be clause-by-clause deliberations; on July 29, the report will be adopted. July 30 will be the last date for submission of dissent notes; on July 31, the dissent notes will be scrutinised, and on August 3, the report will be submitted.