The National Democratic Alliance’s latest ordinance to amend the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Act, 2013, could turn out to be a unifying factor for the opposition to take on the government.
A day after the Union Cabinet approved the amendment to LARR Act making land acquisition for projects related to industrial corridors, defence, infrastructure and social infrastructure easier, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee referred to the decision as “black” and “unjust”.
“The Union government has forcefully brought an ordinance on land acquisition. The country is going through a dangerous phase due to the BJP government,” she said at a party meeting. “We will fight against the black and unjust ordinance on land acquisition by burning symbolic copies of it,” she said.
The CPI(M) too opposed the ordinance and termed the decision “authoritarian”. “The BJP government’s decision to amend the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act through the ordinance route favours the interests of corporates and real estate barons. This decision is in continuation of the ordinances passed on coal privatisation and raising the FDI in insurance,” the party noted in a statement and appealed to “all democratic forces” to oppose the “anti-democratic and authoritarian acts” of the Centre.
While Congress leaders admitted that there had been and still were differences within the party over the Land Act, with some sections supporting the view that it made land acquisition a lengthy process, party leaders spoke in a united voice condemning the government's step to amend the Act.
The former Union Minister of Rural Development and Rajya Sabha MP Jairam Ramesh, under whose tenure as Minister the Act was passed, said the ordinance was “deeply disturbing” and added that the exemptions would lead to forcible land acquisition, and diversion of land acquired.
Talking to reporters, Mr. Ramesh acknowledged that though there were both supporters and detractors within the Congress to the Act passed by Parliament in September 2013, he stressed that it had been passed unanimously while incorporating amendments suggested by BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan.
He refuted the government’s claim of complaints by various States as well as industry. “Where is the evidence?” he asked. Mr. Ramesh criticised the government for making the changes through an ordinance when Parliament was likely to meet soon for the budget session.
“This will further vitiate the atmosphere in the Rajya Sabha. I cannot see how the Congress, CPI(M), JD(U) and TMC will support this,” he said. “There were 14 hours of debate on the Land Act in Parliament, 65 members spoke, Rajnath Singh spoke on it in the Rajya Sabha, Sushma Swaraj in the Lok Sabha, Ravi Shankar Prasad in the Rajya Sabha. This (ordinance) should have been avoided, and now we will have to wait for Parliament to convene,” he said.
Taking to Twitter, Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh termed the amendment as “anti- farmer”. “The Congress will oppose every move to dilute Land Acquisition Act,” and added that “all political parties who are pro-farmers must come together to oppose it.” The former Union Minister Manish Tewari said by diluting the Act this government had sent out a message that “it is a government of the corporates by the corporates and for the corporates.”
If the joint opposition blocks the Bill to replace the ordinance in the Rajya Sabha where it has a majority, the government will have no option but to resort to a joint sitting of Parliament.