Though BJP has backtracked on diluting the consent and social impact clauses in the Central Bill, it must continue pushing the states to liberalise their land acquisition laws.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) climbdown on the Land Bill in the Joint Parliamentary Committee is more of a face saving measure than anything else. The ruling party is completely cornered on the issue and a stubborn approach here could have spoiled the chances of getting support from the non-NDA parties on other reform Bills also.
But, there is no doubt that returning to the UPA’s 2013 Act would be retrograde. Going by the deliberations in the Joint Parliamentary Committee, it appears there is unanimity among the non-NDA parties that no dilution in the 2013 Act should be done for projects which involve private sector participation in any form. The BJP now has agreed to this, which in effect means that the main purpose of the NDA amendments to the 2013 Act — making land acquisition for critical infrastructure projects easier — is defeated.
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A source aware of the discussions in the panel said, “there is unanimity among its members now on keeping the consent and social impact assessment (SIA) clauses applicable for the projects in which there is private sector participation”. He added that with the BJP members agreeing for this, it is expected that the committee would submit a unanimous report this week.
Also read: Govt to withdraw key changes from Land Bill
The interesting part is, despite the BJP’s backtracking, the panel may not strike down the clauses on consent and SIA relaxation proposed in the NDA Bill completely. “They may be there in a roundabout way,” said the source.
The message, however, has gone to the world that the NDA has agreed to retain the UPA’s 2013 Act, which has been seen as a big bottleneck in acquiring land for any project. Even if the BJP-ruled states now amend their land acquisition laws on the lines of the NDA Bill, the government will face problems in major infrastructure projects passing through several states.
The NDA government had brought the changes in the 2013 Act through an Ordinance for completing the Mumbai-Delhi industrial corridor passing through seven states — Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. Only five of these states are BJP-ruled and this is why the Central law is required to support land acquisition for such projects.
It remains to be seen how Prime Minister Narendra Modi strikes a balance between the political compulsions and the reform requirements when he takes a final decision on the Land Bill based on the recommendations of the Joint Parliamentary Committee.
The non-NDA parties may portray themselves as champions of the farmers’ cause if he is forced to return to the UPA’s Land Act, but that will hurt the government’s efforts to enhance GDP growth to the 8-10% range. Foreign investors have already started questioning the NDA government’s capabilities to push reforms with even goods and services tax (GST) Bill passage in Parliament looking uncertain.
PM Narendra Modi would do well by taking his time in acting on the committee’s report and continue pushing the states to liberalise their land acquisition laws.