The contentious Land bill today passed the Lok Sabha test after the government carried out nine amendments to it and persuaded most of its allies to support, setting the stage for its consideration in Rajya Sabha where the numbers are loaded against the government.
Congress, Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party, RJD and BJD walked out of the House while NDA ally Shiv Sena abstained as the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill 2015 was passed by voice vote.
Another NDA ally Swabhimani Paksha moved an amendment which was negated.
In an attempt to placate the opposition and some unhappy allies, government brought nine official amendments and added two clauses to the controversial legislation.
Notwithstanding its majority in the Lok Sabha, government reached out to its allies, making last minute calls to their leaders to persuade them not to break ranks.
Opposition had moved 52 amendments, which were either negated or were not pressed for by the members.
The bill is now set for the real test in Rajya Sabha where the NDA is in a minority and opposition is united in opposing it or sending it to a Parliamentary Committee.
Even while moving the bill for consideration, Rural Development Minister Birender Singh said the government has already incorporated several suggestions, many of them offered by the opposition, and was willing to accept any more suggestions of the opposition if those were in the interest of farmers.
The bill is now set to face a major hurdle in Rajya Sabha where NDA is in a minority and some allies are also not on board.
The official amendments moved included limiting the industrial corridor to one kilometre on both the sides of the highways and railway lines, compulsory employment to one member of the affected family of farm labourers, hearing and redressal of grievances at the district level and acquisition of bare minimum of land for projects.
The amendments also include dropping of exemption to “social infrastructure” projects as there were fears that private individuals may use this clause to open colleges and hospitals which are actually business models.
During his reply, Birender Singh took pot shots at Congress, saying it threw crumbs at farmers all these years to ensure that “they survive but do not prosper”.
His attacks on Congress, particularly Jyotiraditya Scindia and Deepender Hooda, led to frequent verbal clashes, forcing Speaker Sumitra Mahajan to intervene.
Several senior Ministers including Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj and M Venkaiah Naidu, were seen asking the Rural Development Minister to address the Chair.
Singh assured the Chair that he will not look anywhere else but the Chair.
Rajnath Singh on one occasion also told the Rural Development Minister to speak in Hindi to cater to the greater audience.
“Our government has done away with this and the new law will ensure that farmers prosper and their children have access to best of education and other facilities,” Birender Singh said in his reply to the debate over contentious.
Earlier in the day, government reached out to its allies to bring them on board. While some allies like Akali Dal were brought around by the government, Shiv Sena and Swabhimani Paksh did not support the bill.
Swabhimani Paksh member Raju Shetty even moved an amendment on consent clause terming its removal as anti-farmer.
While BJD, which the government was trying to bring on board, withdrw one amendment, the party staged a walkout saying it could not participate in voting as all its concerns have not been satisfied by the government.
As opposition members moved amendments, Singh rose to clarify that the social impact asssessment of land to be acquired will be the prerogative of the state governments.
He also told Deepender Hooda that multi-crop lands will not be acquired.
Singh admitted that a perception exists that the amendments bill is not liked by even BJP members. “But now our efforts have been appreciated,” he said.
Responding to the removal of the clause on the five-year cap for the completion of a project on acquired land, he said at times court cases and litigations delay projects.
Land will be returned to the farmer if the project is not completed, but the time consumed by court cases and injunctions will not be counted.
Defending the ordinance route, he said 13 central Acts relating to various ministries have been brought under the ambit of the law to ensure farmers get adequate compensation.
He said government is open to more amendments in the law to accommodate the concerns of all members.
The Minister said several states had told the Centre that the 2013 Act was a stumbling block to acquire lands for projects.
Attacking Congress and Samajwadi Party for their opposition to the amendment bill, Singh said UP and Haryana had pressed for removal of consent clause at a meeting chaired by Nitin Gadkari in June 2014 when he was heading the Rural Development Ministry.