Union Rural development Minister Jairam Ramesh is burning the midnight oil to bring the Land Acquisition and Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill 2011 before the Cabinet on Monday so that it can be cleared and then introduced in Parliament before the Monsoon Session ends on September 8.
While the minister had earlier expressed his reservations over whether it was feasible to bring the Bill with such speed, it has been now decided that if the bill is introduced in this session and referred to the Standing Committee it can finally be passed in the Winter Session of Parliament.
That is the final window for the Congress before the Uttar Pradesh elections are held early next year, possibly in February.
It is important for All India Congress Committee General Secretary Rahul Gandhi to be armed with the Bill to counter UP Chief Minister Mayawati on the issue of acquiring land for the farmers, an issue which has generated a great deal of heat, with Mayawati taunting Gandhi by saying that the Congress had not brought the Bill but was merely paying lip service to them.
With the prime minister going to Bangladesh next week for two days (September 6-7), the union cabinet meeting is being held on Monday where the bill will be brought.
Ramesh who had met West Bengal Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee in Kolkatta last week and discussed the provisions of the Bill, met more than 10 union ministers on Thursday, including Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Defense Minister A K Antony, Home Minister P Chidambaram, Information and Broadcasting minister Ambika Soni, Union Minister Kapil Sibal and others in a bid to build a consensus on the Bill.
Sources said neither Ramesh nor the government want the Bill to go the way of the Sports Development Bill, where there had been bloodletting in the cabinet and the Bill had to be deferred for another day.
With all ministers and allies on board, Jairam has been asking them to give him their suggestions and to make it clear that the Bill was a key instrument in fulfilling the government's promise on land reforms, and that this was needed by Gandhi for the UP elections.
According to the provisions of the Bill, the government would pay two times the amount of the land at its highest rate in urban areas and six times in the rural areas. In tribal areas also they would need to pay six times the amount.
Certain benchmarks have also been laid on the reasons why Land can be acquired in say the forest areas and what are the purposes to which the land can be put.
The aim is also to preserve and protect certain areas so that the people's livelihood is not affected, nor should they be left to feel as aliens in their own environment.
The detailed and comprehensive Bill has been circulated to all the major stakeholders as the government works to take all political parties on board so as to avoid controversy and build a consensus.
Ramesh has ensured that the website of his ministry will upload the draft of the Bill.