Given the Opposition majority in the Rajya Sabha, the LARR Bill passed by the Upper House may be a deeply diluted version of the government’s own 2015 Bill. Aditi Phadnis reports.
Reconciled to the fact that it will have no option but to cave in to the diktat of the Opposition on the 2015 Land Acquisition Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill in the Rajya Sabha where it is in a minority, the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government is preparing to virtually abandon its own Bill.
This could cause even more legislative and policy confusion on land acquisition.
The 2013 LARR was sought to be amended and replaced by LARR 2015, to make land acquisition easier for certain categories of projects, to give a boost to industrial activity.
The requirement of social impact analysis and consent of land losers was waived for this category.
The Lok Sabha passed LARR 2015 and 44 members of the Congress walked out to show they disagreed.
When the Bill came to the Rajya Sabha, the House demanded a panel study it, as even an amended version had been changed substantially by the Lok Sabha.
The committee, which has 15 Bharatiya Janata Party members and 15 from other parties, and is headed by the MP from Darjeeling, S S Ahluwalia, is likely to submit its report on Wednesday. Clause-by-clause discussion will begin from Monday.
According to sources in the committee, most BJP members do not have adequate experience on dealing with the finer points of law.
The proceedings are dominated by former rural development minister and architect of the 2013 law, Jairam Ramesh, and former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijaya Singh, assisted ably by Trinamool Congress leader Kalyan Bannerjee.
The net result is a substantial dilution of LARR 2015, even the amended version passed by the Lok Sabha.
The Opposition in the committee, for instance, is united that acquired land not utilised for three years should be returned to the land losers.
In the 2015 Bill as passed by the Lok Sabha, this period was "a period specified for setting up the project or five years, whichever was later" (clause 101).
Some doubts were raised about the word 'utilisation' -- should land be deemed to have been utilised if a boundary wall was built? This matter is still under discussion.
Section 46 of LARR 2015 related to extending rehabilitation and resettlement benefits to land owners in case of purchase of land through private negotiations in excess of 100 acres. The government is ready to scrap this.
Industry Secretary Amitabh Kant, who recently deposed before the committee, said the most contentious issue -- land required for industrial corridors up to one km on either side of the road -- should be exempt from SIA and consent clauses as the land (mostly) belonged to Indian Railways.
He said this should never have been in the LARR legislation in the first place.
The government might relent and take industrial corridors out of the purview of the Bill.
In the end, however, the general fear is that given the Opposition majority in the Rajya Sabha, the LARR Bill passed by the Upper House may be a deeply diluted version of the government's own 2015 Bill.
This will leave the government with only two choices -- get the Lok Sabha to ratify the Bill as amended by the Rajya Sabha that will be marginally different from the 2013 Bill widely perceived as anti-industry; or push for the Lok Sabha version of the LARR 2015 to be passed by the Upper House, wait for it to fall and then have it passed in a joint sitting of the two Houses.
There is a third choice: That the government works on breaking the Opposition by isolating the Congress. That does not seem politically feasible.
In the interim, in the absence of central guidance, state governments will be free to acquire land in the manner they think fit.
Under the 2013 law, only two big parcels of land have been acquired so far: One for a road in Punjab, built primarily to service a hotel owned by the family of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal; and one in Odisha. It was to telescope the time taken in acquiring land that the government had pressed for the 2015 amendments.
However, recognising the reality that the NDA does not have majority in the Rajya Sabha, Prime Minister Modi had resolved to let state governments take the final call in the matter and make one last effort to take the Opposition on board on an amended version of the 2015 legislation.
Now it seems even that might not materialise.
Image: Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajiv Pratap Rudy. Photograph: PIB Photo