‘The government has travelled a long way in solving various problems on various fronts. The question is that after 10 years of horrible mismanagement, some time is obviously needed to bring back a system and management into force’
‘What social impact do you want to do when the government embarks upon genuine development projects? Let farmers keep some money as savings and some money can be invested in land if they wish to’
‘Nowhere can there be consent of all farmers in an area. In India, given a choice nobody ever wants to part with land’
In the first part of an exclusive interview with Sheela Bhatt/Rediff.com on the eve of the first year of the Narendra Modi-led NDA government, BJP President Amit Shah, image, below, talks about the government’s achievements and the controversy over the land bill.
Amitbhai, acche din kab ayenge? When will the good days come? People who gave you 282 seats would like to ask you this of you.
The public does not use such phrases which are used in elections. But, still, I will let you know what a difference we have made. The wholesale price index was seven per cent, it is now minus 2.3 per cent. This is the difference we have brought in. The growth rate which was 4.4 per cent, according to the old formula of calculating, is now 5.7 per cent.
The budget deficit is under control, almost. The trade deficit is also under control, almost. Barring the one phase of election in Jammu and Kashmir, by and large state elections were peaceful. India has definitely created an image of an emerging leader of the 21st century on the global platform.
The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government has given 14 crore Indians an opportunity to open a bank account for first time in the last 60-plus years. For those 14 crore account-holders we have made available, at a cost of only Rs 325 per year, accident insurance of Rs 2 lakh and life insurance of Rs 2 lakh.
Under the MUDRA (Micro Units Development Refinance Agency) scheme we have made available Rs 10,000 to Rs 10 lakh worth of easy loans to some five crore small and medium businesses. We believe that only if self-employment increases will unemployment decrease. It is not possible to give jobs to so many millions. We must provide a facility for micro-finance to develop individual entrepreneurship.
The parameters to help farmers in distress during natural calamities, which were followed not only since last 67 years but since the days of the British Raj, have changed. Instead of 50 per cent, the National Democratic Alliance government is giving compensation to farmers with even 33 per cent loss of crop. Because of this new liberal policy a 26 per cent increase in claims has been noted. We have increased cash assistance by 50 per cent. We have implemented a soil health card policy all over India and two states have started pilot projects for it.
This will help the farmer know beforehand what kind of crops are best suited in which season and how much water, seeds and fertilisers he will need on his farm. Year after year farmers will be provided information about their soil and will remain updated.
Kul milaakar (his pet phrase in Hindi), in sum, the government has travelled a long way in solving various problems on various fronts. The question is that after 10 years of horrible mismanagement some time is obviously needed to bring back a system and management into force. However, certainly one can say that in the last 11 months of our rule the Opposition is unable to level a single allegation of corruption against the government. Nobody can single out one problem that we have not attended to. Nobody in the Opposition parties can allege that our government is indecisive. Nobody can even say that our government is suffering from ‘policy paralysis’. In all areas we have tried to improve and have got some results.
There is no doubt that your government is a ‘government of U-turns’. When you were in the Opposition you opposed the Goods and Service Tax, the Insurance bill, the Bangladesh border agreement, AADHAR.
Slowly… take one by one. We were against giving citizenship to infiltrators under AADHAR. Our objection was specific, against recognising infiltrators.
We never wanted a person to get an AADHAR card with the help of a certificate procured from a panchayat. Against that we wanted the National Population Register to be the basis of citizenship, particularly in sensitive states.
In the case of GST, most of the states had disputes about the quantum of compensation. We wanted it to be in favour of the states. The National Democratic Alliance government in New Delhi has accepted the demand of the states. If the United Progressive Alliance had done it and allowed to let go of control over funds, the GST bill would have been passed then.
We have accepted all the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission. We had the option to accept it partially. But we have, for the first time since Independence, increased the state’s share by 10 per cent. We upped it from 32 per cent to 42 per cent. We were pained to see that the states in east and north-east India are not developed enough. We have given a huge share of revenue, out of the auction of the mines, to the states in eastern India who owned most mines.
I repeat, that on many bills the main tussle was over the interests of the Centre versus the states'. After we have come to power, in all cases we have taken decisions and finalised the matter in favour of the states. We have not played politics over Centre-state relations.
Even on the insurance bill our opposition was strategic. We were opposing it to ensure that local insurance companies don’t lose out their business as new insurance companies, backed by foreign investment, enter the market after the bill becomes an act. We were never against the bill or the entry of new companies.
Even in the land bill you took a U-turn. When in Opposition you voted in favour of it. As soon as you came to power, without debating with anybody, without sharing anything in public, you brought in an ordinance to propose major changes in the land acquisition act of 2013. (Finance Minister) Arun Jaitley claims the ordinance was necessary to bring certain vital sectors within the ambit of the act. But, in that case, why did you not stop at that? Why did you change other parts of the law without asking anybody?
We made changes because when the land bill of 2013 came into effect and touched the ground of practicality, state governments belonging to both the Congress and BJP started forming new land acts. Maharashtra, Haryana and Rajasthan made their own laws as land is in the concurrent list. The application of the 2013 land act was impossible on the ground.
How do you build a new railway track with a land act which is practically not possible to implement? We made changes to make it possible to use it. No law is permanent or steady. The law is not made of steel. The law is made by Parliament. It goes to the people, to the ground. A lot many suggestions come once it is implemented. So many laws have been amended after receiving people’s suggestions.
You are a hardcore political person. You will agree that as soon as this government brought in the land ordinance a perception has percolated down from New Delhi to the ground that this government is anti-farmer. Right? I am talking of public perception.
It must be so among certain media groups. Since I have become the president of my party I have travelled in all the states of India. My travel, maximum times, has been in areas intensely engaged in farming activities. Of course, the propaganda of the Opposition parties and some media reports do have an impact but even then the truth remains the truth. It will take only six months for the people to decide that the Opposition parties’ claim is not going to happen.
Then what went wrong in planning the strategy for the land bill?
No mistakes have been committed.
You didn’t initiate a public debate. You didn’t consult your NDA allies, even.
But then we made amendments after talking to all. It is not the characteristic of a democratic government to stick to its own position when people have strong opinions. We were flexible and made nine amendments to our proposal.
Exactly! The how did the staunch opinion against the land bill get formed in the first place?
The stanch opinions that I know of are not related to the fundamental bill. It’s mostly connected to procedural elements of the bill and amendments are also made accordingly.
Let us put it simply. The issue is too serious. The Social Impact Assessment clause has been stuck down for five types of acquisitions.
We have stuck to our position on it. We removed the SIA clause from the ordinance and act in five categories of development projects. We have not inserted it back. We have removed the consent clause and SIA if the land is acquired for those five purposes. (That includes national security, defence, rural infrastructure including electrification, industrial corridors and building social infrastructure including PPP where ownership of land continues to be vested with the government.)
But the people are against the removal of SIA provision.
We will go to the people and explain to them as to why we have taken it out from five categories of acquisition.
What will you explain? How will you do it?
It is not possible to not at all have any social impact of development. Any application of the land law will have some or other social impact. It is the daydreaming of some people who live in a make-believe world, who think you can make roads, hospitals and railways without any social impact!
But how is it possible that such a big government with huge projects worth millions of rupees is ready to move ahead without knowing even the actual social impact of the project in the area? How can you move ahead in the dark without having all the data in your hand?
You should understand one aspect of the issue, too. When a farmer’s land is acquired for development he will get four times the actual market price. After getting a huge compensation, will the land market in his area be closed to the farmer? No. He can use his money to buy land around the project or anywhere he wants from the open market.
He can use some money to buy new land and keep the rest of the money for himself. Tell me, will he be able to buy land from the open market from the four-times compensation that he got? Then what social impact do you want to do when the government embarks upon genuine development projects? Let the farmers keep some money as savings and some money can be invested in land if they wish to.
But social impact is due to various factors. Some types of land allow multi-crop farming…
So that land is valued high, too. He will get more money then.
What about the ‘consent’ clause?
Nowhere can there be consent of all farmers in an area. In India, given a choice, nobody ever wants to part with land.
How can you say that in a democracy? Let me ask you differently. You have been in politics since long. You do believe that for Indians land is important. It has social and cultural significance, too. Yes or no?
What is more important than your son? Still, we send our sons to fight at the borders of the nation. Similarly, for the sake of development of our country, we have to give away our land. Not an inch of land that the government will acquire will go into the hands of industrialists.
Why don’t you look at the past deals where the poor gave away their land and the rich built colonies on that land?
Yes, that was so. It was done by the Congress or allowed by the Congress. Now, the BJP is ruling in India. Let me clarify. Only in the construction of roads and railways will we have public-private partnership. In which the government is the owner of the land and remains the owner. In the construction of housing for the poor we will not have a PPP model. The government will construct those houses on land taken from farmers for the larger good.