Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Land acquisition: Modi signals govt to stay the course

Despite mounting opposition, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday signalled the central government intended to stay the course and introduce changes to the controversial land acquisition law passed by the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in 2013. Realizing that the opposition led by the Congress had decided to stall the bill in Parliament, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders called on Tuesday a meeting of its senior leaders to discuss the situation in Parliament.

The party has formed an eight-member committee tasked with talking to farmers’ leaders and organizations to hear their concerns about the bill. Soon after the bill was tabled in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, the government faced protests from a united opposition. Members of the Congress, Samajwadi Party, the Trinamool Congress (TMC), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Left parties came together to present a formidable opposition against the government.

“If the government wants to have a discussion, the Congress is open to have that with the government. We can find ways and means to go around it. But if they bring it on the floor of the House, we will have to oppose it tooth and nail,” said Kamal Nath, a senior Congress leader. Modi told members of Parliament (MPs) of his party during the BJP’s parliamentary party meeting on Tuesday that the land acquisition bill benefits farmers and that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government will not take any steps that would hurt their interests.

Modi also asked the MPs to defend the bill both inside and outside Parliament. “A meeting of parliamentarians of NDA will be held to deliberate on issues on how to make the land acquisition bill more effective so as to benefit the farmers, the poor and the downtrodden. For this, a discussion will take place between MPs and concerned ministers of these departments,” said Rajiv Pratap Rudy, minister of state for parliamentary affairs. Rudy said that during the meeting of the BJP parliamentary party, MPs were assured that the government will take all steps to safeguard the interests of the farmers. Opposition parties said the government should have taken steps to build consensus before introducing the bill and taken into consideration the concerns of the farmers. “The entire opposition is against the bill and we are surprised that this government is time and again taking an anti-farmer stand and favouring industrialization. The farmer has nothing except the land in his possession. Farmers’ consent is a must,” said Mulayam Singh Yadav, chief of the Samajwadi Party.

Protests also erupted in the Rajya Sabha where Congress leader Anand Sharma pointed out that four parties had given notice because the government had bypassed Parliament to make changes in a law that had been passed in 2013 through consensus by all the parties, including the BJP. Defending the government, Union finance minister Arun Jaitley said that 639 ordinances had been promulgated since Independence, of which 80% were under Congress rule. “As many as 70 ordinances were promulgated under first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and 18 under United Front. No law can be passed by bypassing Parliament,” Jaitley said.

Meanwhile, on the second day of the protest organized by Anna Hazare at Jantar Mantar, the social activist allowed Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal to share the dais with him. “We had decided not to let ministers come on stage, but a chief minister is not a common person but is a respectable position,” said Hazare. Kejriwal, addressing the protesters at Parliament Street in Delhi, said: “The Congress government was arrogant; that led to them being removed from power. People had hopes from the BJP government that they would do something. If the government passes the bill, then they will also be nothing but a glorified property dealer.” “In this country, any government that works against the farmers, the people will not let the government stay. Under Anna Hazare, we support the movement,” added the Delhi chief minister.

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