With investor unease growing over issues like the poor handing of the MAT on FIIs – the falling sensex is best reflective of this mood – decisive government action on the land Bill has become sort of a litmus test of its ability to get critical legislation through.
This is why, though the government has made an unfortunate dilution in the provisions on industrial corridors, it is doing well to stand its ground on the Bill despite the chorus of protest from a seemingly united Opposition.
Since it is likely the government will not be able to get the Bill passed in the current session or in even the next one, chances are the ordinance will be re-promulgated a few times.
And, in the meanwhile, apart from putting more money in the hands of farmers by acquiring land for roads and railways, the government can try and persuade more parties to come on board especially if it can try and get prominent farmer groups to weigh in its favour.
But meanwhile, investors need to see some action, and one way to do that is to go back and relook whether or not, as in the case of labour laws, states have the freedom to bypass the central Bill and move on their own – certainly the centre recognizes this since the government has consistently said that states which did not agree with the central law were free to recast it.
The Seventh Schedule of the Constitution categorizes various powers as Union, State and Concurrent– the first two are self-explanatory, in the case of the third, in case the state law runs counter to the central law, the central law prevails.
While land does not figure in the central list, item 18 of the state list includes this when it talks of ‘transfer and alienation of agricultural land’. In which case, how did the UPA pass its Land Act and why is the NDA trying to do the same? Item 6 of the concurrent list talks of ‘transfer of property’ but this is ‘other than agricultural land’, so it cannot be under this section.
The possibility, then, is that the UPA law was justified under item 42 of the concurrent list which deals with ‘acquisition and requisition of property’.
Whether land is a state subject or a concurrent one, then, is a matter of interpretation even though it does look as if it is a state one. But even if is on the concurrent list, Article 254(2) of the Constitution allows states to have a law which runs counter to what the central law is provided the President of India gives his assent to it.
In other words, if a Gujarat or a Maharashtra, for instance, want to remove the consent clause even while it is there in the central statute, all they have to do is to, having passed the Bill in their assembly, send it to the President – prime minister Modi will, as he has done in the case of the Rajasthan labour laws, recommend this to the President who is obliged to sign on.
So while the debate over the central land Bill carries on, why doesn’t the centre get some BJP-run states to at least change their laws?