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States can seek changes to land act: Rural Development Minister Birender Singh

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By Prashant Sood

New Delhi: Rural Development Minister Birender Singh has said that the ruling NDA alliance has given a political answer to the Congress on the land bill by leaving it to states to make changes to the 2013 Act for acquiring land for industry, while Congress state governments, if they want, can let the consent clause in the law enacted by the previous UPA government remain.

Photo credit: newsnation.in
Photo credit: newsnation.in

He said he was sure that Congress state governments will work to change the consent law as the “Congress can’t afford that in states ruled by them, there is no development”.

Birender Singh, 69, accused the Congress of a U-turn on the land bill and said its stance on the legislation brought by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was guided by political considerations.

“Congress took a stand on political lines and not in the interest of county and the farmers. And our political answer is that the matter rests with states and they are competent to enact their own legislation on acquiring land because this is on the concurrent list. If Congress ruled states still want to see that the consent clause should remain, let them continue with that,” Singh told IANS in an interview.

“(Their) real face will come out (before the people). How how long will they be able to work by keeping the consent clause? I know you would see in the times to come that (on) this most contentious issue, they would be coming with legislation that it should be withdrawn,” he added.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced last month that the government will allow the ordinance on the land bill to lapse. The ordinance lapsed on August 31 and the the 2013 land Act has again come into force.

The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (LARR Act), 2013 requires the consent of 80 percent of land owners for private projects and the consent of 70 percent of land owners for public private partnership projects. It also provides for assessing the social impact of acquisition.

The Modi government, in its new land bill, had provided for exemption from consent and social impact assessment in five categories but the Bharatiya Janata Party subsequently changed its position in the joint parliamentary committee which is examining the legislation.

Birender Singh said the state governments can decide on exemptions from consent and social impact assessment in any of the five areas, including projects for national security, rural infrastructure, affordable housing, industrial corridors and infrastructure projects where land ownership is with the government.

He denied that the BJP had changed its position on the land bill in view of the upcoming Bihar assembly elections, where the Congress and some other opposition parties were keen to make it a big election issue. The Congress has vociferously opposed changes to the 2013 land Act and had launched several agitations on the issue.

“The issue is only related to politics. It is to do with some NGOs. A politial party thinks that farmers are such a large constituency, let us do politics on that. We said do it. Let your own states make their laws,” he said.

Singh, who joined BJP last year after being in the Congress for several decades, said the government felt that procedure laid down for acquisition under the 2013 Act was protracted and there should be a provision which can make it easy and speed up the proceedings.

He said states would want that the procedure is simplified.

“There may be different conditions, let them (the states) come out with their legislation according to their own circumstances and if it is in consonance with the central act, we will certainly urge the president to give his consent,” Singh said.

Asked if the Congress states will bring changes in the 2013 Act, he replied: “Yes.” “The Congress can’t afford that in states ruled by them, there is no development,” he added.

Asked if the government stance to leave it to states to make changes to land act will expose the Congress, he said: “It will expose everybody who opposed (the NDA bill).”

He said the government had issued an executive order to extend benefits of compensation, relief and rehabilitation to land acquired under 13 central Acts as the ordinance had lapsed. These 13 Acts had to included in the 2013 land law within a year of its coming into force.

Singh, the grandson of Sir Chhotu Ram who was a prominent pre-partition politician and a champion of interests of farmers, said his predecessor Nitin Gadkari had convened a meeting last June year and almost all states had requested changes in the land act as it will be difficult for them to acquire land.

“Most of the states also raised this question that the period involved is very lengthy and if everything is followed strictly it will take 59 months minimum for any acquisition. So on that basis we brought that legislation,” he said.

He said the Congress lost assembly elections in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand after which it “had a different posture and different arguments”.

“So, the U-turn is not from us, backtracking in not from us. It is the Congress which has backtracked.”

He said the government accepted suggestion to form joint committee of two houses of parliament to examine the new land bill as a way out of logjam. The new land bill could not be passed in the Rajya Sabha where the government lacks a majority.

The committee, which was expected to give its report during the July-August monsoon session, is likely to give it in during the the November-December winter session.

(IANS)

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Gujarat Elections: The Fight to the Finish between Congress and BJP

The counting of votes for the Gujarat elections will begin on December 18 at 8.00 AM

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The Gujarat elections have brought the BJP and the Congress in close contest with each other.
Women on their way to the polling booths in Gujarat on December 9, VOA News

 

  • The Gujarat elections have brought the BJP and the Congress into a close contest over the seats.
  • The exit polls predict a victory for BJP.
  • The counting of votes will begin at 8.00 A.M. on Monday, December 18.

The Gujarat elections, which were carried out in two phases on December 9 and December 14, will finally come to its culmination on Monday, December 18, as the counting of votes will commence from 8.00 A.M. The Gujarat polls, over which seasoned BJP politicians such as Narendra Modi and Amit Shah  have locked horns with the newly appointed president of the Congress, Rahul Gandhi, have been subjected to numerous speculations and predictions, ever since the two political parties have launched themselves into relentless campaigning for the various constituencies.

The Gujarat elections have brought the BJP and the Congress in close contest with each other.
Rahul Gandhi kissing his mother after being elected as the President of Congress on December 16, 2017, VOA News

Congress vs. BJP: Who will Win the Gujarat Elections

The campaign for the Gujarat assembly elections has been a vehement one for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has extensively referred to the growth index and other statistical details while enumerating the virtues of the BJP government. His developmental policies, such as the Ujjwala Yojana through which free LPG gas facilities were provide to households below the Poverty Line, have made him immensely popular among the women of Gujarat. Modi’s appeal as the ‘son of the soil’ has earned him support in the urban and commercial hubs of Gujarat, in spite of the brewing discontent over demonetisation and the imposition of GST. The BJP has also succeeded in securing the support of the tribal people of Gujarat, who were previously considered as a stronghold of the Congress.
However, with the trio of Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani, Rahul Gandhi seems to have infused young blood into the Gujarat elections, and has thereby attracted a significant number of young voters. Hardik Patel, with his political acumen has become a potential threat for the BJP, as multiple scandalous tapes of him as well as his aides have not decreased his popularity. In North, Gujarat, Saurashtra and Kutch, people seem to be disappointed with the BJP government, since the much-applauded ‘Gujarat Model’ has failed to solve basic issues in their lives, such as shortage of water.

 

The Gujarat elections have brought the BJP and the Congress in close contest with each other.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the voters at Kalol, in the outskirts of Ahmedabad on December 8, 2017, VOA News

Gujarat Elections: The Exit Polls

The Gujarat Polls of 2017 have often been hailed as one of the closest competitions faced by the BJP government during its 22 year long tenure as speculations are rife regarding who will win the Gujarat elections. However, in spite of the unyielding campaign by the Congress and Rahul Gandhi, the speculations hint towards another victory for the BJP in the state. An aggregate of nine exit polls in Gujarat show that the BJP is expected to secure 162 seats, while 65 seats may be secured by the Congress.

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Rahul Gandhi Elected as President of Congress Amidst Celebration of Followers

The 47 years old has been Vice President for a while during the tenure of his mother Sonia Gandhi

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Rahul Gandhi becomes president of Congress as mother Sonia Gandhi steps down
Rahul Gandhi steps in as President of Congress, Wikipedia

Rahul Gandhi was elected to the position of the President of Congress after his mother Sonia Gandhi stepped down in his favour on December 16, at a ceremony in the AICC Headquarters in Delhi. In an event attended by sister Priyanka Gandhi, brother in-law Robert Vadra and veteran politicians such as ex-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Rahul Gandhi became the sixth member of his family to have ascended to the position of the President of Congress, after a significantly long period of apprenticeship as the Vice-President.

 Rahul Gandhi becomes the president of Congress as mother Sonia Gandhi Steps Down
Rahul Gandhi steps in as President of Congress after a speech by his mother Sonia Gandhi. Wikipedia

Sonia Gandhi Steps down

In an emotional farewell speech, Sonia Gandhi thanked all the party members who had supported her in the initial days of her 19 year-long tenure as the President of Congress, as she nostalgically recounted how she had never intended to join politics, but was thrust into it by the tragic circumstances. “Meeting this challenge was not the achievement of one individual but the continued efforts of all of you,” said she, addressing the crowd for the last time as the President of Congress. Sonia Gandhi, whose election to the post was preceded by the assassination of her mother in-law Indira Gandhi as well as her husband Rajiv Gandhi, expressed her confidence and pride in the spirit and resolve of her son, stating that his training as Vice President has made him “Stronger and unafraid”. Sonia Gandhi’s speech, however, was constantly interrupted by the noise of firecrackers, which were being burst by some members of the party, who were celebrating the much-awaited election of Rahul Gandhi.

Rahul Gandhi steps in as President of Congress after a speech by his mother Sonia Gandhi
Rahul Gandhi with the Prime Minister of Greece at New Delhi, Wikipedia

Rahul Gandhi becomes President of Congress

The 47 years old Rahul Gandhi, who until recently was engaged in an active campaign for the upcoming state elections at Gujarat, was awarded the Certificate of Election by Mullapally Ramachandran, the President of the Central Election Authority of Congress. “Politics belongs to the people, it is their greatest weapon in dismantling the structures that oppress, silence and disempower them,” stated the newly elected President of Congress, calling himself an ‘idealist’, who looks forward to better days. Rahul Gandhi’s fiery speech was met with much applause and appreciation, especially from the younger members of the party.
In 2013, the ascension of Rahul Gandhi as the Vice President of Congress was followed by a loss in nine state elections, and a victory in three. The election of the president comes at an interesting point of time, with the upcoming elections in 16 states, as well as the national election in 2019.

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Himachal Polls: It will be do-or-die battle equally for Congress and BJP CM faces

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It will be a do-or-die battle equally for Congress and BJP CM faces (Himachal Polls) (Anonymous Poll Photo)

Shimla, Nov 2, 2017, 1:00 IST:  It’s literally a do-or-die battle for both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief ministerial faces in the upcoming Himachal Pradesh assembly polls. Both veterans — one in his eighties and the other in his seventies — are struggling for their political survival.

One is veteran Congress leader and incumbent Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, 83, who is pushing hard to get to the helm for the seventh time. The other is the BJP’s Prem Kumar Dhumal, 73, who is making a strong bid to ensure the party’s victory with a record margin to silence his detractors within the party.

 For almost two decades, both the parties in the state have fought almost every assembly and parliamentary polls under their leadership.

“This time, Virbhadra Singh is fighting on two fronts — one is to establish his son Vikramaditya Singh, who is contesting his maiden assembly election, and the second is to ensure the party’s repeat as he forced the Congress to announce him as the chief ministerial candidate despite all odds,” a political observer told IANS.

For Dhumal, it’s simply the battle for “self-survival” after facing a humiliating defeat in the 2012 assembly polls. Since then, he was almost marginalised by the BJP faction led by Union Health Minister J.P. Nadda.

After thwarting foes within, Virbhadra Singh donned his battle gear much ahead of this arch rival Dhumal, whose name was cleared by the BJP as its chief ministerial candidate just days ahead of the polling for the 68-seat assembly on November 9.

“The announcement of Dhumal as the chief ministerial candidate was part of the BJP’s strategy to boost the morale of the cadres as the party for long was divided in two camps — one led by Dhumal and the other by Nadda,” a senior state BJP leader admitted.

Interestingly, both Virbhadra Singh and Dhumal are seeking re-election from new seats and that is not going to be easy for them.

The Congress leader is in the fray from Arki in Solan district, the BJP’s pocket borough that he chose himself, while Dhumal is contesting from Sujanpur, the seat he was asked to contest from.

The Sujanpur contest seems interesting as the Congress has fielded Rajinder Rana, who knows the Dhumal family well.

Virbhadra Singh knows the assembly poll will be a vote on the performance of his five-year-old government.

“We are seeking votes on the basis of development by our government, especially in the education, health and connectivity sectors,” a confident Virbhadra Singh, who first became the Chief Minister in 1983, told IANS.

The Chief Minister, who has been in active politics for over 50 years, is a regular target of the top BJP leadership, who point to his being out on bail and facing corruption charges in the Delhi High Court during the time he was the Union Steel Minister 2009-11.

But against all odds, he alone tours across the state seeking votes for the Congress. Party leaders said the Chief Minister is single-handedly campaigning and he is conducting 15 to 20 meetings in two to three constituencies every day.

He starts his campaign at 9 a.m. and continues till late into the night. He holds closed-door meetings with party workers in the evening for their feedback.

The only saving grace for the Congress is that its Vice President, Rahul Gandhi, will tour the state on November 6, a day before the campaigning comes to an end.

Contrary to this, the BJP has fielded its entire top brass — from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to his cabinet colleagues, including Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley and J.P. Nadda.

Even party President Amit Shah is aggressively touring the hill state.

“The Congress has failed to handle even sensitive cases like gang-rape of a schoolgirl. Our focus on coming to power will be eliminating forest, mining, liquor and transfer mafias that are active in the state for long. This will greatly help restoring the faith of the public,” Dhumal told IANS.

Political observers say issues like development have been pushed to the background as personal attacks dominate most of the election rallies.

“Apart from mudslinging, there is no public-specific agenda with both the leaders. They are just trying to woo voters by raking up personal issues,” an observer said.

Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said Singh is the main “star” of the party campaign in the state.

“Virbhadra Singh is campaigning on the ground and the BJP is baffled at the response he is getting. We don’t have to be loud to impress the people, like the BJP is doing,” Surjewala told reporters in Shimla on Thursday.

Virbhadra Singh is targeting Dhumal by saying he has always worked with a political vendetta against him.

But a confident Dhumal believes there is a favourable wind prevailing for the BJP’s return as the present government has wasted much time in the ongoing corruption cases against Virbhadra Singh and his family rather than focusing on development.

The future of the arch rivals will be pronounced on December 18, the day the votes cast will be counted along with those in Gujarat.

The Congress won 36 of the 68 seats in Himachal Pradesh in 2012 with a 42.81 per cent vote share, while the BJP bagged 26 seats with a 38.47 per cent vote share.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in) –IANS