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Land law: Victim of cynicism and lack of vision



By Amulya Ganguli 

The clumsily designated Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill has been the victim of clumsiness in forms other than its name.

To start with, these relate to the absence of an uncluttered vision among politicians about the best way to achieve the objective of protecting farmers’ interests while advancing the cause of industrialization.

In a hasty manoeuvre to negate the provisions of the 1894 land acquisition law, the politicians seemingly lost a sense of balance and tilted rather too heavily in favour of the cultivators.

Among those who noted the imbalance was the commerce minister in the Manmohan Singh government, Anand Sharma, who said that “insistence on the consent of 80 percent of affected families will seriously delay land acquisition and in many cases halt essential infrastructure projects”.

As Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has pointed out, this objection echoes the Narendra Modi government’s views. But the Congress has chosen to ignore what Sharma said two years ago because it runs counter to the party’s objective of throwing a spanner in Modi’s “Make in India” industrial endeavours.

The Congress is well aware that if the process of industrialization takes off, then the party can say goodbye to any immediate chance of returning to power. Hence, the aggressiveness with which the party’s vice president, Rahul Gandhi, has been opposing the proposed amendments to dilute the provisions on securing the consent of farmers, and declaring that he will not allow an inch of land to be acquired by the government or the industrialists.

The Congress’ crown prince does not seem to care that stalling industrialization will hurt the country in the long run since it will stop a large number of peasants to move from farms to factories and also be detrimental to overall development by scuppering infrastructural projects.

But it will not do to blame the cynicism of the Congress alone. As Modi once pointed out, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MPs supported the land bill in 2013, they desisted from taking a long-term view of industrial growth presumably because such a stance would have enabled the BJP’s opponents to accuse it of being pro-corporate, as Rahul Gandhi is doing today by alleging that the Modi government is “suit-boot ki sarkar”.

This one-sidedness has long been a feature of Indian politics – and also of the popular culture reflected in fiction and films – which propagates that the rich are evil while the poor are the repositories of all that is good in human beings.

In this respect, B.R. Ambedkar was in a league of his own when he described villages as “a den of ignorance, narrow mindedness and communalism”, echoing Karl Marx’s condemnation of the “idiocy of rural life”.

If the BJP is now taking a stand which is diametrically opposite to what it did in 2013, the reason is that the responsibility of governance has made it realize that employment generation via industrialization and economic reforms is the best way to lift millions out of poverty.

The Manmohan Singh government, too, had pursued this path, thereby leading to poverty reduction between 2005-06 and 2011-12 at the fastest ever rate in the country’s history because of “fast GDP growth”, as Arvind Subramanian, the present government’s chief economic adviser, said.

But any progress on these lines does not suit the opportunism of Rahul Gandhi and the Congress, including Anand Sharma. Hence, their opposition to reducing the percentage of farmers who have to agree to relinquish control over their lands from 80 percent at present.

This outlook is not only a major hindrance to the acquisition of land by the industrialists, but also condemns the cultivators to remain confined to their increasingly unproductive and sub-divided plots as the land is parcelled out among the succeeding generations.

Although the charges about being anti-industry have recently persuaded Rahul Gandhi to say that he is not anti-big business, the no-longer-young heir apparent has never said a word about his economic vision.

On the other hand, the BJP’s attempt to wriggle out of the logjam created by the opponents of the proposed amendments by calling upon the states to frame their own laws offers no solution.

Since land is in the concurrent list of the constitution, the states will be unable to draft a law which goes against the central legislation. For instance, the 80 percent stipulation cannot be tampered with, nor the directive about assessing the social impact of the acquisition.

The BJP’s hope, therefore, that the need to attract investors will persuade the states to prepare industry-friendly laws is unlikely to be fulfilled. Besides, some states like West Bengal will rather shoot themselves in the foot by shunning investment rather than be seen cosying up to the corporate sector.

However, even as parties like the Congress, which is leading the charge against the land law, continue to pose as champions of the underprivileged, they may ponder over why they were defeated in last year’s general election despite enacting supposedly pro-poor laws like the one on land and the other on providing subsidized foodgrain.


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Come April, government will be more comfortable in Rajya Sabha

Of the 100 BJP-allies MPs, 24 are retiring. Which means, the government will be left with 76 MPs

Parliament of India is a source of interest for many people because of various reasons. Wikimedia Commons
Parliament of India is a source of interest for many people because of various reasons. Wikimedia Commons
  • In April, the opposition may lose its edge over BJP in Rajya Sabha
  • NDA led by Modi has faced many embarrassments in Rajya Sabha in past few years
  • This is expected to change soon

Come April, the opposition in the Rajya Sabha may lose its edge in the numbers game and the power to stall any government bill, as the ruling BJP-led NDA coalition is set to catch up with its rivals, though a clear majority will elude them for a while more.

BJP to soon get more comfortable in  Rajya Sabha. Wikimedia commons
BJP to soon get more comfortable in Rajya Sabha. Wikimedia Commons

As 58 MPs, including three Nominated and one Independent, are set to retire in April, the Rajya Sabha math is going to change. It is set to favour the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and the trend may continue in the elections to the Upper House later too with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) having solid majorities in a number of state assemblies, especially the ones it won after the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

With this, while the Congress-led opposition’s numbers will come down to around 115 from the present 123, the numbers of the BJP, its allies and sympathisers together would climb to around 109 from the present 100-odd members.

And the gap, once wide enough to let the opposition invariably have its say, will keep narrowing further in the coming months.

Of the 55 retiring members (excluding those Nominated), 30 belong to the opposition camp while 24 belong to the BJP and allies. Of them, a large number of NDA candidates are set to return while the opposition will lose a chunk of its members.

As things stand now, the Congress-led opposition has 123 MPs (including 54 of the Congress) in a house of 233 elected members (apart from 12 Nominated), while the NDA has 83 members (including 58 of BJP) plus four Independents who support the BJP (these include MPs Rajeev Chandrashekhar, Subhash Chandra, Sanjay Dattatraya Kakade and Amar Singh).

Rajya Sabha or the Upper House can often be a game changer while passing of the bills is in process.
Rajya Sabha or the Upper House can often be a game changer while passing of the bills is in process.

Also, for all practical purposes, the All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), that has 13 members in the Rajya Sabha, is also with the NDA. This means the NDA’s effective strength in the upper house of Parliament is 100.

The gap was wider till just a few months ago. This meant that during any battle between the government and the opposition in the Upper House over bills and major issues, it was the opposition that invariably had its way. The recent example was the triple talaq legislation that the opposition stalled in the upper house, demanding that it be referred to a Select Committee.

For over less than four years, the Narendra Modi government had faced quite a few embarrassments in the Rajya Sabha thanks to the majority of the opposition, forcing it often to take the money bill route to avoid a clash in the house. Under the Constitution, a money bill needs to be passed only in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha cannot stall it.

Also Read: For Modi, Road To 2019 Will Be Steeper

However, after April, the NDA will be in a far better position.

Of the 100 BJP-allies MPs, 24 are retiring. Which means, the government will be left with 76 MPs (including AIADMK). But at least 30 from the NDA are set to get re-elected. So the number will rise to 106. Add three members that the government would nominate to the upper house and the final NDA tally will roughly be 109 MPs.

Further, there are fence-sitters such as the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and the YSR Congress, which are not virulently against the BJP and would not oppose the government unless for very compelling reasons.

Now, for the Congress and the rest of the opposition, they are set to lose 30 MPs (including one Independent, A.V. Swamy) through retirement and would be left with around 93 members. The Opposition may win roughly 22 seats, which means that its final tally after April is likely to be around 115 members.

Government can now expect some smooth sailing in the Rajya Sabha, coming this April.
Government can now expect some smooth sailing in the Rajya Sabha, coming this April.

The gap has clearly narrowed and the government may not be at the mercy of the opposition during crucial votes and can have its way in the Rajya Sabha if it musters its numbers by deftly wooing “floater” MPs.

The three newly-elected Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) members may remain equidistant from both the BJP and the Congress, though the party is friendly with some of the major opposition parties like the Trinamool Congress.

Also Read: BJP MP Seeks Amendment to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill

In an interesting development recently, the AAP actively participated in the opposition’s walkout and the day-long boycott of the Rajya Sabha over long intra-day adjournments of the Upper House by Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu.

The AAP, which was not welcome at any opposition meetings earlier, particularly those held in Parliament House, was invited to speak at a joint opposition media interaction on the day. But nobody can be sure as to how long this bonding would last.

Partywise tally of those retiring in April-May from the opposition’s side include 13 from the Congress, six from the Samajwadi Party, three of the Trinamool Congress, two each of the Nationalist Congress Party and Biju Janata Dal and one each of the CPI-M, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha.

NDA has to face many embarrassments in past few years in Rajya Sabha. Wikimedia Commons
NDA has to face many embarrassments in past few years in Rajya Sabha. Wikimedia Commons

From the ruling side, 17 MPs of the BJP, three of the Janata Dal United, one of the Shiv Sena and two of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) are retiring.

In terms of state-wise vacancies to be created in April, the highest number is from Uttar Prdaesh (9), followed by Maharashtra (6), Madhya Pradesh (5), Bihar (5), Gujarat (4), Karnataka (4), West Bengal (4), Rajasthan (3), Odisha (3), Andhra Pradesh (3), Telangana (2), Uttarakhand (1), Himachal Pradesh (1) and Chhattisgarh (1). IANS