All Opposition parties supported land Act changes
If Opposition parties have been muted in their criticism of the land Ordinance—they have criticised it for bypassing Parliament—it is because they have, by and large, been in favour of its contents. Indeed, during the consultations with the then rural development minister Nitin Gadkari, most states including Congress-ruled ones came out with serious objections to the Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Act—the Congress states, of course, were not in a position to bring this out when the party tabled the LARR Act. The Indian Express reported on Monday that the Haryana government—at that time, it was ruled by the Congress—said the consent requirements for PPP projects should be either done away with or reduced to 50%; this has been done away with in the Ordinance provided the land vests with the government. In the case of Kerala, ruled by the Congress-led UDF, the state said ‘obtaining consent of land owners prior to preliminary notification is a herculean task … may pose a problem’. Other Congress-ruled states like Assam felt the scope of ‘affected family’ was ‘very elaborate’—Monday’s Ordinance does not tackle this, sadly—since it included ‘livelihood losers’. Ditto in the case of the social impact assessment where states like Karnataka and Maharashtra (which was then under Congress rule) felt the process should be restricted only to large projects. Though not a Congress state, Tamil Nadu wanted the definition of what was ‘public purpose’ to be decided by the states. Uttar Pradesh, also not a Congress state, also wanted the definition of ‘affected parties’—all ‘affected parties’ are eligible for R&R—to be whittled down since the current definition goes way beyond just those who own or till the land but includes even those whose livelihood could be affected by the sale/acquisition of land.
But such is the nature of politics that while most Opposition parties were in favour of radical changes to the LARR Act, the BJP was still not able to bring it through Parliament and had to resort to an Ordinance instead—given the manner in which Parliament behaved in the last session, it is not certain the same approach will not be taken by the Opposition parties in the Budget session as well. But why blame the Opposition parties alone. When the BJP was in Opposition, it opposed the insurance Bill after having first supported it. Ironically, while the BJP opposed the Bill to hike FDI levels in insurance—which it had to now bring in through an Ordinance, taking the total Ordinances issued by it to 9—it had no problem supporting the UPA’s LARR since its top leadership felt that not supporting it would leave it open to the charge of being anti-farmer. Where you stand on an issue, it remains true of Indian politics even today, depends on where you sit.