Today's Paper

PM relents, may agree to amend Land Bill

Cabinet discusses allowing States to frameown laws

The Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, approved on Tuesday a proposal to amend the Land Bill to give flexibility to the States to frame their own laws for land acquisition, a demand various Chief Ministers aired at the July 15 meeting of the Governing Council of NITI Aayog.

To help break the impasse on the Bill, the Cabinet decided on adding a provision to enable the States to frame and pass their own laws, a top government source told The Hindu . So if a State decides to include in its law consent of landowners and those dependent on the land and a social impact assessment before acquisition, it will be free to do so.

Mr. Modi, at a meeting of National Democratic Alliance partners on Monday, admitted that the amendments to the Land Acquisition Act, 2013, had not gone down well with the people and made his government look anti-farmer. Sources in the ruling alliance said he had acknowledged that the perception needed to be corrected at the ground level and he would not proceed with the Bill without engaging the allies in a dialogue.

The Shiv Sena and the Shiromani Akali Dal had expressed reservations on many of the provisions of the draft Bill. At the NITI Aayog meeting, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal stressed the importance of the landowners’ consent and social impact study, and demanded that the decision to include these or not in the law be left to the State governments.

The rethink in the government comes even as a Joint Parliamentary Committee is examining the draft Bill. Its next meeting is on Wednesday when the Secretaries of the departments/Ministries of Legal Affairs, Rural Development and Industrial Policy and Promotion and top Railway officials, who did a no-show at the July 16 meeting, will present the government’s views on the draft Bill as well as respond to the complaints and grievances of individuals and organisations.

The proposed enabling provision will be introduced under Section 254 (2) of the Constitution that allows the States to frame and pass specific laws on a Union Act. At present, 78 laws are in use in various States on the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, all passed by them under Section 254 (2).

A source said that if the government succeeded in pushing the Bill through after adding this new provision, then the BJP-ruled States of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan could take the lead. “The enabling provision is aimed at encouraging cooperative federalism among the States … Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan will move quickly to use it to complete the land acquisition for key projects such as the industrial corridors that could then be showcased … in this way, these States will be able to enhance their attractiveness to other States.”

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