Given how trenchant rivals like the Trinamool Congress and the CPI(M) can get together to vote for an amendment to the President’s speech, it is obvious these are not ordinary times. While prime minister Narendra Modi’s own allies are a divided lot on the land acquisition Act amendments proposed—and even potential allies like the NCP are not signalling unalloyed support—the entire opposition parties seem to be united in their desire to give the government a bloody nose whenever and wherever possible. In which case, even a joint sitting of Parliament may not help the government get its amendments passed—without its allies voting alongside it, the BJP does not have enough members in both houses. Indeed, this is likely to be a problem when the government gets around to converting its other ordinances—on insurance and coal mining—into Acts. One solution being talked of involves some relaxation of the consent clause for private purchases of land. While it is not clear if this will pacify the Opposition, this is probably a bad idea since, once the land has been paid for, the idea of another round of consent-seeking will only delay projects further. In any case, even under the UPA’s land acquisition Act, the threshold at which such consent was to be sought was left to state governments.
It is apparent the government needs another set of tactics since even reading out the letters of various UPA ministers and chief ministers—both Anand Sharma and Prithviraj Chavan opposed critical sections of the UPA’s Act—are not helping sway the Opposition, nor are the statements made by various chief ministers as part of the NDA’s consultation process. While the Samajwadi Party had indicated it wanted changes during the consultation, it is now saying it is opposed to the proposed changes—and this is despite the prime minister going all the way to Saifai to attend the pre-wedding ceremony of SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav’s grand-nephew with the daughter of RJD chief Lalu Prasad’s daughter.
Under the circumstances, the government should be in no hurry to pass the Act, as it indicated in the opening days of Parliament, it has the option of simply re-promulgating the ordinance again and again. Second, it needs to bring in more farmer groups into the picture. After all, when R2,000 crore extra were paid out by just the coal and roads ministry over the past few months, it is farmers who got this money—and this is money they would not have got under the UPA Act which had 13 exemptions to the Act including highway-building and coal mining. Also, with farm sizes getting smaller and agriculture more uneconomic for small/marginal farmers—nearly two thirds of the income of marginal farmers comes from non-farming—farmers will benefit from increased land sales at remunerative prices. All of this needs to be publicised widely.