New Delhi, Feb 28 (G’nY) New service: In a recent development the Indian government brought in an Ordinance to manoeuvre major changes in the existing Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013. The provisions which seemed limitary in the eyes of the industrial bodies were sought to be removed. But the government’s decision ironically ended up creating anxiety amongst various sections of farmers in the society. This anxiety has now transcended into widespread protests all across the country, which is being supported by the opposition, unions and social activists.
The first large scale protest against the central government’s land acquisition ordinance, was initiated by veteran social activist Anna Hazare who held a two day dharna (protest) at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, on 23rd and 24th February, 2015. Recently elected Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal also joined the protests. Addressing the fellow protestors at the Jantar Mantar Kejriwal said “The land acquisition ordinance is anti-farmers and anti-poor, we strongly condemn it. If the Land Acquisition Ordinance is passed, this Government will act like a property dealer for big corporate honchos.”
It seems the major reason for criticism of the bill is the extension of projects exempted from the need of consent and social impact assessment (SIA). By amending section 10A the government has added five sectors where consent will not be required for acquiring of land, like defence-related projects, rural infrastructure, housing for poor, industrial corridors as well as infrastructure and social infrastructure projects, including public-private partnerships, where ownership continues to vest with government. Thus the 70 to 80 per cent consent which was earlier mandatory in the 2013 Act will not be necessary for acquisition in these five sectors. Arun Jaitley, Finance Minister, while participating in the Rajya Sabha debate on the President’s address to the joint session defended the government’s decision by saying that “National security has been categorised as an urgent reason for acquiring land but it is not exempt from the need to obtain consent or an SIA. So, the state government can identify the land but consent of 70 per cent of the farmers would have to be taken, an SIA would have to be conducted… months would pass and in the meanwhile Pakistan would come to know what is being planned. This (existing) law can be disastrous for national security. It needed to be corrected”. He said the amendments rightfully seek to make national security and four other purposes exempt from some of the provisions of the law, while extending these provisions to each of the 13 other purposes which had been exempted earlier.
In the latest ordinance the government has made clear that whether the land is fertile or not will not be taken into consideration while acquiring land for the above-mentioned five sectors, which is also a reason for protest among the farmers stating that it is anti-farmer. When Mr. V. M. Singh convenor, Rahtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan was questioned at Jantar Mantar regarding the problem areas of the Ordinance he said “we are against fertile land acquisition and will stand together to protest against it.”
Congress held a Zameen Vapsi Andolan for the protest after party chief Sonia Gandhi at a strategy meeting in Parliament House on the 25th of February 2015, has set the tone for the party’s tough stand on the land ordinance while Mamata Banerjee twittered about it as Drocanian Ordinance. When the Ordinance question was posed to Mr. Sanjeev Jha, MLA from Burari, AAP he said that it is just a way to usurp the land of the farmers. The prime minister of India has already reached out to the Opposition during the joint session held on 27th February 2015, which has been protesting against the Land Bill calling it anti-farmer, saying, “Kripa karke isko rajneeti ke tarazu mein mat toliye (Please do not weigh this in the scales of politics). I am ready to bring in changes if there is anything against the farmers in it… even if there is a single thing against the farmers in this, I am ready to correct it.”