With opposition mounting campaign over Land Acquisition Bill, Prime Minister Narendra Modi today reached out to farmers, telling them that “lies” are being spread over the measure for “political reasons” to create confusion among the farming community.
Speaking on the issue over radio in his monthly ‘Mann ki Baat’ programme, he insisted there were some “lacunae” in the Land Act of 2013 “as it was enacted in a hurry” and these are being addressed while protecting the interests of farmers and villages.
Referring to his statement in Parliament, Modi maintained that the government is willing to consider any changes in the bill that would be beneficial for the farmers.
He made a veiled attack on Congress, saying “those projecting themselves as sympathisers of farmers and undertaking protests” had been using a 120-year-old law to acquire farm land for over 60-65 years after Independence and were now targeting his government which is “trying to improve upon the Act of 2013”.
During the 30-minute programme, he underlined that the new bill being brought by his government has the same compensation provisions as in the 2013 Act and emphatically rejected that the new measure was aimed at benefiting the corporates.
He also said that ‘no consent’ provision in the proposed new law applies to acquisitions by government for government or PPP projects and insisted that the same clause exists in the previous Act.
“I am surprised that all kinds of misinformation is spread,” he said, focusing on the issue over which his government has come under severe attack and united the opposition parties.
“In the Act of 2013 there were certain lacunae… Our attempt is to address these lacunae to ensure that the law is beneficial for villagers, farmers, their future generations and to ensure they get electricity and water,” he said.
“I said in Parliament also that even now if somebody feels that something is still lacking, we are ready to make improvements.
“Our commitment is to ensure benefits for farmers through the Land Acquisition Act..So many lies are being spread..It is my fervent appeal to farmers not to make decisions on the basis of these lies. Don’t be misled,” he said, adding, “You trust me, I will not betray your trust.”
Specifically referring to the consent clause issue, he said misinformation is being spread for “political reasons”.
The new bill was passed by Lok Sabha during the just-concluded first half of the Budget session but got stuck in Rajya Sabha.
Modi said the enactment of Land Acquisition law in 2013 during UPA tenure was done in a “hurried” manner and BJP, which was in opposition at that time, had supported it for the sake of farmers.
“If anything is done in a hurry, some lacunae remain. May be the intent was not wrong but lacunae are there which need to be corrected. I am not levelling any allegations against the previous government as to what it wanted or not wanted.
“Our intention is only to see that farmers benefit, their children benefit, villages benefit. So if there are any lacunae in the law, these must be addressed. This is our priority,” the Prime Minister said.
To buttress his point about lacunae in the Act of 2013, he said when the law was implemented, it was realised that “perhaps farmers have been cheated. We have no right to cheat the farmers.”
He said when his government came, there were “voices” which said the law needs to be changed and improved upon. “These voices came from states” he said.
It was also noticed that for a year after being enacted, the law was not implemented, Modi said.
“States like Maharashtra and Haryana, where Congress was in power and who claim to be the sympathisers of farmers, implemented it but gave half the compensation than prescribed in the law,” he said.
The Prime Minister said if any state wants to go by the previous law, they are free to do so.
He sought to clear the air on certain specific aspects of the new bill while talking about drawbacks in the previous Act.
“Shall I tell you about one biggest lacuna? You too will be surprised at knowing it… Those who are going around as sympathisers of farmers and making speeches are not answering this question,” Modi said.
He said the “biggest lacuna” in the 2013 Act was that 13 aspects of government activity, like railways, national highways and mining, for which maximum land is acquired, were kept out of its ambit, meaning that compensation for acquiring land for these purposes would be paid on the basis of the 120-year-old law.
“Tell me, isn’t it a lacuna? Isn’t it a mistake?…We corrected this and in the new bill, these activities have been covered and as a result, four-time compensation will be given for the land acquired,” he said.
It has been said that since these activities were kept out, it would benefit officials and “fill their treasuries”, he said.
The government also added one more element that 20 per cent of the land taken for development will go to the land owner and one member of the family will get a job, he said.
Modi said he agrees with suggestions that first of all, government land should be utilised, then barren land and at the end if required, the fertile land. “This is why a decision has been taken to survey the barren land so that it becomes the priority,” he added.
He said farmers also have complaints that more than the required land is acquired. “I can assure that through this new bill, it will be determined first as to how much land would be required,” he said.
“Rumours are being spread that Modi is bringing the law to reduce compensation. I can’t even think of committing such a sin… Such misinformation is being carried out for political reasons. You have to guard against them,” Modi told the farmers.
“When we are trying to improve the law for the benefit of farmers, even then if some states do not agree, they are free not to implement it.
“That is why I want to tell you that misinformation is being spread that this government is anti-farmer. It is part of conspiracy to ensure that farmers remain poor and the country does not make progress. We have to guard against this, our nation as well as our farmers,” he said.
The Prime Minister said the government has tried to make the Social Impact Assessment (SIA) less time-consuming and less complicated as farmers’ interests would be hurt if the process goes on for years.
He said after implementation of the proposed legislation, villages will see development as roads will be built, farmers will get irrigation as canals would be built, their children will get jobs and houses would be built.
Rejecting the charge that the bill is pro-corporate and pro-rich, Modi asked if a road, a canal or houses are built in a village through PPP model, would the private partners take those away with themselves.
“Public-Private Partnership (PPP) means only that private companies put in money because government does not have so much money,” he explained.
He also rubbished “misinformation” that farmers would have no legal recourse left. He said there is a provision for an Authority at zilla level which can be approached for redressal of grievances and if some farmer is not satisfied, he can approach a higher court.
“Those making laws in air-conditioned rooms do not know the ground reality,” Modi said.
On consent clause, he said even in the 2013 Act, there is no provision for consent for acquisition of land for government projects.
“Unfortunately these rumours are being spread,” he said.
In the proposed law, those undertaking a project will have to give an undertaking about the timeline of that project.