Alleging “political opportunism” behind Rahul Gandhi’s tirade against the land bill, Narendra Modi’s Government today hinged hopes on a “consensus” in the Joint Committee of Parliament for passage of the contentious measure and claimed Congress alone is insisting on zero amendment in the 2013 law.
In an interview to PTI, Rural Development Minister Chaudhary Birender Singh also stressed that amendments were required in the 2013 law to make it functional as it was passed by UPA in “haste” with an eye on 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
The minister expressed readiness to accept whatever “good suggestions are made in the interest of farmers” through the committee headed by BJP MP SS Ahluwalia.
The Union Minister’s assertions have come in the wake of the government seeking to placate the Opposition on the vexed land acquisition bill by including a fresh section which will allow state governments to have provisions of consent clause and social impact assessment while implementing the law.
To help break the impasse on the Bill, the Cabinet had last week decided on adding provision to enable the states to frame and pass their own laws.
Congress and some other parties have, however, spurned the move dubbing it as a “new kind of conspiracy”.
Asked how President Pranab Mukherjee can give assent to bills by different states on the same issue on which there is a central legislation and whether the government’s idea will not lead to over-lapping, Singh said there have been precedents.
“No. It is not about over-lapping. States can bring some improvement in any central legislation on issues falling within the ambit of concurrent list. It is done. The President gives assent to their laws. There are many instances, where it has happened. There are many such laws,” he said, adding that the proposal will only be sent by the Central government to the President for his assent.
“Moreover, the President’s assent will happen through us. The state government’s Act goes to President through the concerned ministry. Of course, the President is the final authority. There may also be special circumstances from state to state. If any provision is in the interest of the state, the President gives assent,” he said.
Asked whether he is hopeful that the bill will be passed during the Monsoon session, Singh parried a direct answer.
“It all depends on the Joint Committee report. I feel that it will come by August 3 as the panel was given extension till then. If there is a unanimity and consensus in this report, then I think that the bill will be passed,” he said.
Amid indications of Samajwadi Party warming up to the government, the minister indicated that barring Congress other parties are not saying no to any amendment.
“I feel that other parties may have some reservations against few things in the bill. But they are not saying do not bring any amendment in the 2013 law. Only the Congress party has this mindset,” he said.
Singh also parried a question on whether the government will promulgate the land ordinance for the fourth time if no consensus is arrived.
“We will see that later. There is still time for ordinance,” he said.
Indications are that deliberations in the panel could continue for some more time as the government is unlikely to push for the passage of the bill before Assembly elections in politically crucial Bihar, an agrarian state.
The rural development minister said that whatever good suggestions come in the interest of farmers through the committee, Government will certainly try to implement them.
“But, we definitely want the process for the acquisition to be speeded up. This is our prime concern,” Singh said.
Targeting the Congress Vice President, he said, “Rahul Gandhi’s remarks that we will not allow even an inch of land to be taken has no meaning. This can only be a political speech. Our bill is aimed at making the 2013 law applicable. If farmers have to be given any benefit of that law, then some shortcomings in it have to be rectified.
“If there is no modification, then the Act will be non- functional. So saying such a thing is not in sync with democratic norms. There is some lack of understanding of democracy on part of Rahul when he says this.”
The Union Minister, who has had a long association with Congress before he joined BJP last year and became a minister, suggested that there are multiple voices in Congress over the issue.
“Yes that is there. When they were in power, Congress ruled states Maharashtra, Kerala and Haryana said this Act required amendments to make it functional and applicable.
“But as soon as they were out of power, they are now saying that we are not ready for any amendment. This is political opportunism,” he said.
Singh said this replying to a question on whether he thinks that Congress has multiple views on the issue and Rahul is alone driving the party to take the strident stand.
The minister pointed out that Congress continued for over 50 years with the same 1894 Act for acquisition of land even-though it had many lacunae.
“And when they made the new law in 2013, they did it in a hurry. It was not aimed at doing away with the lacunae of the old law and was brought due to political reasons keeping in mind the 2014 Lok Sabha election,” he said.
Insisting that there should be “pragmatism” in ideas, the Minister said “a party which rules the country for for 50-55 years and thinks of governing the country even in future should have maturity in thinking.
“It should be pragmatic. Making absurd remarks out of frustration and desperation to somehow come out of the impact of poll drubbing does not suit any pan-India, national party in the country. Such a party should not think on these lines in a democracy,” he said.