Ahead of tomorrow’s debate on the Land Bill in Lok Sabha, Congress MP Jairam Ramesh today attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying on the advise of US-based economists, he was trying to send a signal to the corporate world that “big bang reforms” were being carried out by him.
Ramesh, a key architect of the Land Acquisition Act enacted by the previous UPA government, also slammed the prime minister for undertaking foreign trip when Parliament is in session and accused him of “deliberately” showing “disrespect” to democratic institutions.
In an interview to PTI, Ramesh, a former Rural Development Minister, contested BJP’s stand that the Land Acquisition Law enacted during the Congress-led UPA rule was not farmer-friendly.
He said the 2013 Law was done in a manner “most democratic, most consultative and most participative” while the BJP promulgated an ordinance, bringing changes in the Law, “in an autocratic, completely high-handed and unilateral manner.”
“Even the Rural Development Minister was kept in the dark. Only two hours to draft the ordinance and get Cabinet approval. There was no discussion,” he claimed.
Accusing the government of diluting the Land Acquisition Act by destroying two key pillars of the ‘farmer-friendly law’ — the consent clause and the Social Impact Assessment, Ramesh said, “This is to show a signal to the market and the corporate sector that they are doing big bang economic reforms.”
“… and all their economic advisors — Arvind Panagariya, Arvind Subramanian — all of them have been saying that this Land Acquisition law should be changed. This is a big lobby. They have been writing for a long… They have come from the US and they will go back to the US,” he said.
Ramesh said the structure of the law was based on four pillars — compensation and Rehabilitation and Resettlement, Consent of land owners and Social Impact Assessment.
“The two pillars — consent and SIA — have been completely demolished. The structure will collapse,” he said.
Criticising the prime minister for undertaking foreign tour when Parliament is in session, Ramesh said, “it is deliberate… he is sending a signal to Parliament… that you can do whatever you want but I will do whatever I want… that is the signal he is sending. He travels only during Parliament Session.”
Prime Minister Modi is leaving on March 10 on a three-nation visit â€” Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka.
Referring to the UPA regime enacted Land Acquisition Act, Ramesh said it was passed “unanimously and enthusiastically” by all political parties in Parliament in 2013.
“It followed two years of nation-wide consultations, two all party meetings, fifteen hours of debate in Parliament, and over 60 MPs had participated in it. Amendments were suggested by BJP, three important amendments, they were accepted and incorporated,” he said.
He noted that the Standing Committee on Rural Development, chaired by Sumitra Mahajan, had a close scrutiny of the legislation and gave its recommendations after year long deliberations.
“Standing Committee was chaired by Sumitra Mahajan, who is now the Speaker of Lok Sabha. It made 28 recommendations out of which 26 were accepted. So the 2013 Law, was done in a most democratic manner, most consultative manner, and most participative manner,” he said.
He said the 2013 law had stipulated Social Impact Assessment clause and it is done for three reasons — to ensure no diversion of land will take place, excess land will not get acquired and livelihood losers who are entitled to compensation will get identified.
“The ordinance does away with the Social Impact Assessment (SIA). SIA is to take only six months according to law. SIA is meant to give confidence to local community and give them a sense of participation in the land acquisition process. That is being done away with,” he said.
He said the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, have done away with the consent clause for acquiring land — 80 per cent for the private projects and 70 per cent for PPP projects.
“This goes back to the 1894 forcible acquisition law… this new amendment, no consent is required… and remember Sumitra Mahajan’s committee had recommended that the government should not acquire any land under any circumstances for private or PPP projects,” he said.
Ramesh also accused Modi and Jaitley of “misleading” the people by saying that defence and national security projects were being delayed because of the 2013 Law.
“This is completely misleading. Under the 2013 Law, there is an urgency clause. Land can be acquired for defence and national security. Without consent or without SIA.
“So already under the 2013 Law, you are allowed to acquire land for defence and national security– without consent, without SIA,” the Congress leader said.
Ramesh said now the government wanted to include private hospitals and private educational institutions as infrastructure.
“We have kept it out. Because these are profit-making enterprises. If they want land, they can go and buy the land. But the government should not acquire land,” he said.
“The law permits acquisition only for government companies or for private companies. But now the new amendment, government can acquire land for private foundations, for private NGOs, trusts…tomorrow they will acquire for RSS… they will acquire land for SP Mukherjee foundations… Who knows? If a trust or a foundation want land, let them go and buy it,” he said.
“Frankly the amendments go against the spirit of democracy. It reopens the door for the forcible acquisition, it expands the scope of acquisition when we should actually be restricting the scope of acquisition,” Ramesh charged.
When asked about the government’s claim that the changes are more farmer-friendly, Ramesh said, “How can it be farmer-friendly? You are taking away SIA, how is it farmer-friendly?”
Jairam Ramesh said organisations affiliated to the RSS were also unhappy with the changes made in the land acquisition law.
“He (Modi) will not listen to any of them. Kisan leaders of BJP, they all are against it. Modi’s philosophy is maximum arrogance and minimum government,” he alleged.